Helen McClory’s On The Edges of Vision is now available via the QFP catalog!
In On the Edges of Vision, unease sounds itself in the language of legend. Images call on memory, on the monstrous self. In Helen McClory’s daring debut collection, the skin prickles against sweeps of light or darkness, the fantastic or the frightful; deep water, dark woods, or scattered flesh in desert sand. Whether telling of a boy cyclops or a pretty dead girl, drowned sailors or the devil himself, each story draws the reader towards not bleakness but a tale half–told, a truth half–true: that the monster is human, and only wants to reach out and take you by the hand.
“Helen McClory knows the mysterious boulder standing in the middle of the field isn’t as perplexing as what hides in the long–lived darkness beneath it. Her new book of stories, On the Edges of Vision, squirms as you read it, forbidding the tight grasp of expectation and rewarding the bloodshot–eyed attention of the curious. Old monsters eat here. New and strange monsters, too. Monsters with no names, and monsters with many names. You won’t be able to leave this book, or its marvels, where you found them. Read and be eroded into fresh soil. These monsters will thrive in you.” —Casey Hannan, author of Mother Ghos
Helen McClory is a writer from Scotland. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of New South Wales. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart. This is her first collection.
This Friday, Zach VandeZande is reading a book well-suited to tin cans. His collection of fiction, Lesser American Boys, is forthcoming from Queen’s Ferry Press in November, 2016.
I like reading heart-wreckers on airplanes. There’s something about the captive space, the recirculated air, the general aura of melancholic resignation inside an airplane cabin that makes reading something deeply human that much more profound. Everyone on an airplane has a Kafkaesque story of what got them to right where they are, rocketing through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour while (hopefully) trying their best not to fart. Everyone feels a little self-conscious and silly, and more than a few of them, if they’re like me, feel profoundly alone.
I spent the last week traveling to a wedding and then to a last-minute job interview. I had two books on my tablet, one for each plane ride that I planned on taking: Nicole Walker’s hybrid eco-crit memoir Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and Abigail Thomas’ What Comes Next and How to Like It. I’ve been on a nonfiction kick, and both books were excellent. But that’s not what I’m writing about.
What I’m writing about is this: I found myself headed home on an overnighter after having to book a flight at the last minute (like, I-bought-this-plane-ticket-in-a-bar last minute). There was nothing left to read on my tablet, and the doors were about to close, and then I remembered that it was Tuesday, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me had just come out. I managed to get it bought and downloaded a few minutes before the flight attendants told us to put our stuff into airplane mode.
I am probably not the first to tell you that the book is necessary, an instant classic (and yes, there’s some irony there, given that it arrived on the same day as Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which by all accounts appears to be a frustrating dud). The basic structure of the book is a letter to Coates’ son, a response to the boy’s heartbreak on finding out that Mike Brown’s killers would go unpunished. Coates tells his son of the danger of living in a world that destroys the lives of black people in order to sustain the Dream of its Whiteness, that clings to an ideal of equality without admitting that the bricks of that world are made of the dead bodies of slaves who didn’t ask to die for the glory of this country. He tells his boy that his body is going to be taken from him, that there’s no stopping its coming. He tells his boy of Prince Jones, a college friend who was killed by a police officer for little reason. He tells his boy a lot of things, and in so doing tells the world of itself. So: a heart-wrecker, through and through.
I read it in one desperate gulp, which is fitting, as the book feels like a long insuck of air after too long underwater. I could leave it at that—an important book, read all at once—except there was a moment of interruption that is worth talking about. While the book was doing its work on me, a young black woman was sitting to my right. She seemed about nineteen, and was the kind of self-involved teenager that keeps baby boomers up at night. She recorded, discarded, and re-recorded a Snapchat to her boyfriend while the plane was taking off and then got rude with the flight attendant about it. She fidgeted relentlessly in the chair. She kept getting her bag out and putting it away again, jabbing me in the side in the process. Most of all, she made me self-conscious about what I was reading, which was a complicated thing to feel, and she got a little nosy in side-eying what I was up to, and then she leaned over and asked me about the book.
I had no idea what to say. I thought to myself You, Zach VandeZande, who are listening to Vince Staples and reading Ta-Nehisi Coates. You, the guy who just gave a talk about the possibility of true empathy in art. This book is about you and your complicity in a violence so grand that you are just now beginning to comprehend it. Because what was my answer going to be if not that, and what right did I have to give one to her, who I’d been annoyed by and wasn’t interested in connecting with and etc? In the moment I said, “It’s a letter to his son. It’s sort of about Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown.” But that’s no good. That’s a nothing answer, a half-ass thumbnail blurb for this enormous, grief-stricken thing that Coates was doing to me.
She asked how much I’d read, and I said about 2/3rds. And she said it must be good then, and she wanted to write it down in her phone to look up later. So I told her the title. Looking back, I sort of wish I’d just given it to her, the whole tablet and everything. I wish I’d had the courage to keep talking to her about it, to say, “Actually, it’s about you and me, and how we’re so far apart from each other, and how I’m not doing enough to close that gap. How the shit I take for granted about my life came in no small part by people like me standing on your back, and Coates’ back, and soon enough his boy’s.” But I let her sit there without speaking again and I let her fidget and I grew annoyed by her again until she got off at LAX. And that’s who I am, and now I’ve gotta live with it.
There’s an old bit of wisdom I like, even though it comes from a terrible punk song by Dillinger Four: “Don’t let your comfort get the best of you.” That’s what’s happened for white people in this country, and that’s what I hope we wake up from. In that moment on that airplane I felt indictment, and I think that moments of indictment offer us a choice: we can face it head on and listen, taking the blows we deserve, or we can gather around the people who are like us and echo chamber each other into feeling good again. I hope that the former happens with Coates’ book. I’m skeptical that it will, but I hope.
Zach VandeZande spent too much of his life in Houston, TX, not enough of his life in Denton, TX, and now lives in Carrboro, NC with his girlfriend. He is the author of Apathy and Paying Rent and the co-editor of Critical Pedagogy and Global Literature: Worldly Teaching, and his work has appeared or will soon appear in Portland Review, Passages North, Atlas Review, Gettysburg Review, Cutbank, Thin Air, The Boiler, and elsewhere. He holds a PhD of fiction from the University of North Texas. He likes baking bread, hammocks, and people who bring their dogs.
The idea to launch a Kickstarter project to help fund the On the Edges of Vision tour came about as a result of me talking aloud about my thoughts on Twitter. It seems often to be the case that when I clap my hands to the keyboard to work something out, there are dozens of wonderful writerly people with advice, caution and encouragement to give. Sometimes it’s advice about cakes or language or the best place to go to find moorland in the lowlands (long story).
I had such a positive response to the idea of the Kickstarter that I decided I had to at least try. Queen’s Ferry Press have beyond risen to the occasion, providing perks for donations, an editorial eye over suggested rewards and tonnes of support generally for the whole tour endeavour, something that has seemed at times like stepping out across an invisible bridge and hoping to stay airborne. So far, the whole process has gone incredibly well. My goal is small, realistic. Just £1000 to defray costs, with money raised beyond that gratefully received to help me book more stops, more bus tickets, to shore a future reading tour through the UK or beyond. In response to missives on Facebook and Twitter, more readings have already appeared on the schedule. My heartfelt thanks to the network of writers, editors and booksellers who have taken a chance on this book and agreed to be a part of this. To host me in their cities, most of which I’ve never even been to. Raising my glass to the internet for making these little hales and cries possible at all. To my friend A, who helped make the video, putting up with my desire for romantic ruins and my hesitancy, and voice – which he had to listen to many times in the editing process. To D, for being the sound man (as he always is, every single day). To all the friends new-made or long loved who have put their backs into this.
My very first book, these stories of monsters and connection, will be available for pre-order on the 21st of July, and the tour begins on the 24th of August. A litany so far: Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, DC, New York. If I can see you, somewhere here, as I read to you, or after, as I sign your name and smile (awkwardly, but sincerely, as I do most things), it would be wonderful. Reach out. Tell me I’m here, tell me I made it. Tell me your favourite book, the best spot in this city.
What this will do for the book itself cannot be easily quantified. How many more readers will get to know On the Edges of Vision than would have done otherwise? How many more people will buy a copy? Come to a reading, ask me to sign? Not sure. But I can feel that they will be there, the readers. That sensation of connecting, or the possibility of this. A sensation of the finest threads vibrating.
If you’d like, support the Kickstarter here. The fundraiser ends at midnight, August 15th.
Helen McClory is a writer from Scotland. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of New South Wales. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart. This is her first collection.
Eighteen months after its hardcover release, Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History re-emerges as a paperback. Featuring an additional chapter, “The Marriage of Elizabeth I and Ivan the Terrible,” and an alternate epilogue, “The Department of Disinformation,” Phong Nguyen proves that history does indeed repeat itself.
Buyers of the hardcover who include their original order number with their paperback order directly through Queen’s Ferry Press will receive this title at only $12.95 and pay nothing for shipping, while new readers will receive free shipping on their standard $16.95-priced copy. This re-release is available to ship on 28th July, 2015.
Snag your copy and discover all the almosts that have made (and remade) history.
Today marks the official release of George McCormick’s Inland Empire. We extend our good wishes to George for the success of his novel—the first published by Queen’s Ferry Press. We hope readers will recognize in Inland Empire, and the novels that follow, the same commitment to substance and style as evidenced in our short story collections, and continue to support the writers crafting the transportive literary fiction we are still so proud to publish.
James Magruder recounts his roll call of personal debt, accumulated during the 19 years in the making of Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall, to be published by Queen’s Ferry Press in June 2016.
In early November 1996, I was on a train from Baltimore, where I lived and worked, to New Haven, where I had spent most of the ‘80’s in graduate school, first in the Yale French department and then at the Yale School of Drama. I was making the trip because a musical for which I had written the book, Triumph of Love, was going up at the Yale Repertory Theater, with pre-Broadway hopes.
Avoiding my overdue rewrites for Triumph, I began a novel, one that would celebrate my crazy first year—1983-1984—in the French PhD program, when I lived in a graduate dorm called Helen Hadley Hall with a host of international eggheads, who were whip-smart about everything but the directions that their hearts and groins should follow. I wrote in longhand in a spiral notebook. Bill Clinton had just beat Bob Dole and won his second term in office. It was that long ago.
Broadway came and went the following year, but I kept on with my dorm of fools. I finished a first draft in May 2001. Then titled Love Flight of a Pink Candy Heart (after a Florine Stettheimer painting), the manuscript was 145,000 words long. It had nineteen major characters. It was written mostly in dialogue. Imagine A Confederacy of Dunces (one of my favorite comic novels) without an Ignatius J. Reilly at its center. Imagine a sprawling, mid-career Robert Altman movie, not the glorious Nashville, but one of the lousy ones, like Health or Prêt-à-Porter.
That was my baby, and like Ignatius with his journal entries, I thought the work was “particularly fine.” Clearly, absolutely, indubitably, I didn’t know what I was doing.
That was nineteen years ago. When Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall is published next May by Queen’s Ferry Press, it will have been two decades in the making, nearly a third of my life. My baby girl has lost nearly 68,000 words and is now the age of a college junior. The academic year she recounts is prehistoric: pre-cell phone, pre-Internet, pre-sushi, pre-cash machine (at least in Connecticut), pre-Fall of the Soviet Union. Madonna was a brand-new artist. The Apple Corporation released its first MacIntosh personal computer. President Ronald Reagan created a holiday in February for Martin Luther King, Jr. That “the gay cancer” was caused by the HIV virus had yet to be discovered.
But enough with the plot points. I was supposed to write about acknowledgments.
I have noticed that with each additional book a fiction writer publishes, his or her acknowledgments page gets shorter. Love Slaves is my third book, and I find that my roll call of personal debt grows longer every time. If I were to acknowledge all the creatures great and small that contributed to the gestation and publication of Love Slaves, it might read longer than Heart of Darkness or In Praise of Folly.
Given the pre-production schedule, I submitted my actual Acknowledgments Page to Queen’s Ferry Press back in April. I was overjoyed with the opportunity, but sad that not everyone could be included. Think of what follows then as the unabridged “Director’s Cut.”
Thanks to the Publications Intern at Center Stage, my former employer, who, in 2000, cheerfully converted my floppy discs (remember those?) from older Word Perfect files to other formats, leaving me to correct tens of thousands of diacritical marks (e.g., a “ in the first program changed to ^ in the second). Thanks to Center Stage for allowing me to abuse the copy and postage machines when every February I mailed a three-pound envelope with hopes of winning The Peter Taylor Prize. Thanks to Arlo Crawford, über-agent Bill Clegg’s assistant for his kind rejection in 2002 which he said Love Slaves was like “a younger, hipper Robertson Davies,” thereby giving me a handle with which to besiege other agents early in the present milennium. Thanks to the agent who personally called to tell me that a professional manuscript should be double-spaced. I had been using a 1½ space format. (Less paper, less postage, less expense.) Thanks to the Wheaton-Warrenville Wolverines, Class of 1978, whose last names I commandeered for my characters. Thanks to Poets & Writers magazine: every two months I could keep the dream alive via the contest listings in the back pages.
Several post-public reading comments from colonists at the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts came at just the right moment to be useful. Journalist Charles Graeber (The Good Nurse) said, “Get to the ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ Sing-Off as fast as you can.” Painter Katie Merz said, “This is an historical novel.” Poet Aaron Baker (Mission Work) wondered how I had spelled “cashz” (short for “casual”). A video artist whose name I’ve blocked said, “Wow. That’s like eating an entire turkey in one sitting.”
Finally, I find myself most especially grateful to IVAX Pharmaceuticals, over in Ireland. They sell a product called PROAIR-HPR (aka albuterol sulfate), an aerosol inhalant for people who have occasional breathing problems. Believe me, when I started Love Slaves in 1996, I didn’t have late-onset asthma, or a mortgage, or back hair, or a testy male bladder. Or, most important of all, the proper narrator for the novel.
In the wee morning hours of 11.11.11, I was having trouble sleeping in my bedchamber at the VCCA. I’d been there for nearly a week and felt that my rewrites, to be frank, sucked. I woke up wheezing and panicky and without talent. After a trip to the bathroom, I picked up my inhaler. Albuterol acts as a stimulant. One puff—I might be able to fall back to sleep. Two puffs—forget about it. Breathe or sleep?
I took two hits. I tossed and turned, waiting for my bronchial tubes to re-open while my mind roiled with authorial dissatisfactions. I was a third of the way through what I hoped was my final draft of Love Slaves, but the narrator—my fourth in a decade, mind you—was still giving me trouble. What if I left the VCCA early?—What if I applied to nursing school?—what if X were the narrator?
What if X were the narrator? X had been hiding in plain sight on the very first page of Love Slaves for fourteen years. (I won’t reveal the identity of X because I want you to read the book.)
Eureka! Hallelujah! Holy Christ, what took you so long? You never saw such a happy face at the VCCA breakfast bar. I raced to my studio and went back to page one. It would take me another two years to complete this final rewrite, in a gated marble prison of my own devising on Mutungo Hill in Kampala, Uganda, and then another year to find Erin McKnight at Queens’ Ferry—but those stories are for another day, perhaps.
In the meantime, then, a huge shout-out to IVAX Pharmeuticals, and personal thanks to the reader who can tell me the numerological significance of a triple eleven.
James Magruder is the author of two previous books of fiction, Sugarless and Let Me See It, and the book for the Broadway musical Triumph of Love.
When poet, essayist, and Queen’s Ferry Press fiction author Heather Fowler met composer Jon Forshee, creative sparks flew. His enjoyment of the story “Blood, Hunger, Child” from Fowler’s Queen’s Ferry Press’s collection Elegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness compelled her to agree to write a libretto in verse for a chamber opera that he would compose and the project of creating an opera based on a short story began.
Forshee, a specialist in contemporary acoustic, computer, and electro-acoustic music, discusses the project here with Heather Fowler. She has finished writing the libretto and he now works to compose the music for the last act.
Together, in this interview, they explore the process of making literary art combinatory with music.
QFP: For Heather, “Blood, Hunger, Child” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize this year and is a challenging story about two lovers who starve during the French Revolution. Did you ever imagine it being more than a story? The libretto is written in English but using old French poetic forms—did you struggle with any aspect of changing a static narrative to a dramatized format?
HF: In three words: Yes. At first.
I never initially imagined “Blood, Hunger, Child” would leave short-story-land, but when Jon selected it, noticed its dramatic potential, I began to percolate the idea of altering the text to fit a larger agenda—with more players. It’s like taking a monologue and converting it into a story where all POVs have more space to tell.
In a sense, a conversion from one form to another can be likened to translation—not everything survives in its original manifestation or intent. The story became a general framework for the opera’s narrative, but while writing the poems for this piece, scenes or arias, I realized that I began to write the story anew vis a vis alternate motivations so that the fabric of the narrative could be more inclusive of multiple perspectives. The original short story is first person, so an I narrator holds all power. The libretto has four voices—and each now has his/her own developed backstory and action plan.
There were really several challenges in creating operatic work for the stage from work for the page, all of which I enjoyed. The first was that, as a poet, I wanted to write it in verse, in old French poetic forms—but I also wanted to write it in English.
So many operas are written in French, Italian, or German—I loved the idea of letting an English speaking audience feel the transport of both hearing the beautiful voices of opera singers and contemplating the words and phrases they could understand. As a lucky turn of events, while writing the libretto I chanced to meet the author of The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle, and he gave me generous advice about writing an opera, which he had done, that also helped. The jist was this: When writing stories, the emotional fabric of the piece tends to be below the lines, subtextual. He advised me to bring the emotion right up to the top, to let it flow, for the songs to be more moving.
Opera is not a place for small emotions.
Another challenge in terms of the writing of the libretto was that I knew from talks with Jon that we strove for an intimate opera, with a small cast, stemming from a story with a very tight focus, so I had to work around the possibly desired use of a chorus (which I craved) or writing the larger ensemble scenes that bigger operas include, like, say, Turandot, which I watched in the Arena in Verona last summer.
Without the bigger scenes, the author loses some of the palate cleansing of a big number and also loses the stage foil of letting other characters than the main characters cause the conflict to advance–so I had to think tight, modern, and small.
QFP: Jon, who are your influences and mentors—both musical and otherwise–and why?
JF: What a deep question! Deep because, there’s no single thread of influence in my musical thinking, except for very general ones. I grew up on Mozart and Bach, both in listening and as a performer. But when I think of why my music is the way it is, and of how I think about it and why, it feels more natural to acknowledge a gathering, or collective, of others’ voices that inform my working, though each to varying degrees at differing times, of course.
The music of the Renaissance has had, for several reasons, a deep impact on my musical thinking for a long time. And so too has the Classical music of China. There are others…
“Influence” is a really layered idea, because for some the notion consists of ‘emulation’ or something…’inspiration’ is another way of putting it, and for me ‘motivation’ fits well…when I listen to something, anything, that really turns me on, it makes me want to write, or I just start thinking about music; it’s as though hearing a Mozart, or a Cecil Taylor, engage so brilliantly with their musical imagination impels me to engage more and more with mine. I’m not sure if that still falls under “influences.”
HF: Can I just chime in to say that Jon has this amazing ability to be so fluid in his style or musicality. He also has the ability to write scores, with many instruments at play, in complete external silence. The symphony is in his mind. This is one reason I was really excited to work with him.
That’s the sort of genius I admire.
QFP: Jon, do you really hear your musical compositions before your write them? Are there certain go to instruments you prefer to write for first, before adding a complement of others?
JF: Yes, there are lots of things I hear before I begin writing – it depends a lot on the kind of piece I’m writing. With some kinds of pieces, I might actually hum or whistle the piece for days before I start writing it down – with other pieces, I may not even be able to whistle or hum it at ‘all’ even after it’s been performed several times… The piano is the traditional go to instrument for composers, and for the most part it has been for me too. Except that now, with other, newer instruments available to musicians, the piano has become less and less mission-critical to many composers, I think. And I understand that.
QFP: Heather, for the conversion, what was your incubation and pre-writing process like?
HF: Researching poetic forms, of course. I also read quite a few operas and really explored the motivations of the characters in “Blood, Hunger, Child.” One example of how this impacted the resulting libretto was the evolution of the male lead Natan. Through the course of the writing, he went from being a disfigured, somewhat embittered man, as he is in the story, to a man with both physical deformity and a stutter. He went from being characterized as darkly obsessive and somewhat solipsistic by the first person story narrator to becoming like a benevolent fool in the operatic tarot deck, where his whole life is devoted to trying to provide for his pregnant girlfriend Cherie.
For dramatic reasons, if nothing more, Natan became a lover, so he could sing his way into the audience’s heart.
The effect this achieved for me, dramatically, is that his plight was all the more tragic—and the audience could really feel those collective gasps of terror when they watched how his every action became about preserving goodness, making a righteous life, and yet nothing he did would allay his trauma to come.
Too, I think I did more pre-writing for every act, more thinking about a cumulative arc, where I couldn’t simply dump in exposition but really had to make each scene turn the emotional screws in new ways the short story did not explore as fully—though regardless of whether in the opera or the fiction, this story is all about turning the screws. It was bold to write a story about starvation so intensive that a stillborn baby can become cannibalistic fodder for the revolutionary spit. As in many of my stories from the darker side, just when you think things are bad, they are actually about to get irreparably worse.
JF: I don’t really have a pre-writing, or pre-composition, process…as soon as I’ve started thinking about a piece, I’m composing…I don’t find anything anterior to that…
QFP: Jon, how does collaboration with text influence your style of composition?
JF: There are probably ways in which collaborating with text influences how my music sounds with which I’m not aware – but from the inside-out I find that my musical ideas adapt the text to my own ear, while at the same time my ear improvises and follows the rhythm, lilt and sway of the text, hopefully in an authentically reflexive way…
The degree to which the text and music maintain a “literal” relationship, however, is a concern which occupies my writing every time I work with a text. For example, one commonplace we find in much Western vocal music is when a text reads, say “a single leaf falls”, the melody of the setting will descend in pitch, as if to illustrate the “fall” of the leaf. This is not a “bad” way to set text, but it’s only one way to do it, and one which we hear a lot.
QFP: Heather, does writing text for a musical score create differences in the text as you create?
HF: Oh, yes. I had to stay mindful while drafting the libretto that any non-essential exchange must be cut. After all, a single word in opera can take quite a bit of time to sing—so every word matters. I also added more poetic devices like internal rhyme, assonance, and alliteration. I chose poetic forms with refrains that might echo the chorus of a song—or provide a pleasant line for the listener to hear more than once, with differing interpretations based on what line came before or after.
Sometimes as I moved from poetic form to poetic form, since this piece has many poetic forms, I would try to use short forms where I felt the exchange would be more terse.
In this way, it was really a conversion from a story into poetry—for the stage.
But I literally imagined the stage as I wrote each part of this libretto, imagined it being performed—since I’m a former thespian. And my goals were twofold—to write a text I was proud of and to write a story where I would covet the female roles as a performer.
I wanted to write arias and scenes that would move people—where the voice/s of the singer/s and the story could bring a viewer to tears.
QFP: Jon, do you ever laugh while you compose music? Cry?
JF: No – too busy keeping track of all the moving parts to emote much of anything! Ha ha… But really, the contemplative modality that I find I engage when composing isn’t one which seems to have much room for the kinds of strong emotions that provoke crying or laughing. But for sure, I will smile at a well-written line…
QFP: Heather, can you imagine writing a longer opera?
HF: Oh, yes! Perhaps this piece will be the start of a longer relationship with composers. I respect what they do and am very open to more collaboration.
QFP: Heather, as an American author who frequently researches and generates work that takes place in different countries and historical eras, and Jon, as someone who has lived and produced music internationally, do you think that your international exposure to other cultures contributes to creating your artistic aesthetic?
HF: Definitely. I’ve had a love affair with France since I was 11 years old. Of course, I took French in junior high, high school, and college to a point of partial fluency—and then I went to France, which led to me writing some work with France as the location. I’m also interested in Italy, which appears in a number of my stories. Since I’m spending a month in Ireland this summer, I am hoping Ireland will also appear in my work to come, as I plan to do some kind of Irish project while I’m there this year.
JF: Yes – I’m from a small town in Oklahoma, and I’m certain that had I not lived abroad in China, where I started learning the erhu, or abroad in Paris, where I worked on computer music, I would see and hear the world, the musical world, much differently.
Concerning just “travel,” Rousseu’s take that it’s a “necessary evil” (since you have to go away to realize you never had to leave, etc); but “travel” as a side-effect of a “searching,” or a “seeking out,” is crucial… Many far out and interesting pieces have been conceived on planes, or on trains, or in carriages…
HF: Right. Home gets clearer and more distinctive each time a new landscape competes and contrasts with the known.
QFP: The combination of modern music and video with archaic French poetry you two agreed upon is interesting—it seems both you and Heather thrive on challenges with rich texture. Is being a renaissance kind of artist and allowing for multiple and sometimes disparate influences something that creates more interesting art in your view? Heather’s work in the book Elegantly Naked was recently referenced as full of what Einstein would refer to as “combinatory play” and she mentioned she feels this sort of depth and cross-reference of aesthetics or concepts always empowers the powerful literature—do you feel this is echoed in terms of musical composers?
JF: I do. I feel that it is incumbent upon anyone who wants create something interesting to be able to imagine as many ways as possible in which someone other, the “other,” may cognize or receive the work, vision, narrative, whatever. Music, especially Modern Music, requires a particular kind of attention – a peculiar one, even – since, when I listen to music, I observe how textured my experience is, and how my ear often makes connections with things not “musical” – connections to a painting, to a poem, to a memory, to all of these at once, and so on.
Some of these are Modern or contemporary works, but some connections are made with themes or memories which are truly ancient – and I think that it takes an in-depth engagement with a broad diversity of art forms to begin to pick up on some of these.
QFP: The story for the upcoming opera “Blood, Hunger, Child” from Elegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness is set in the French Revolution. What drew you to this piece? What commentary do you work to create via the construction of the opera–and will it be political?
JF: I’ve been thinking about this dimension of the work for BHC a lot lately – and I’m obsessively ambivalent about it. At this point in the composing, all I can really consider is how the musical forces work together, and how those are going to interact with the video, the staging, choreography, computer processing, and so forth. I believe that as all the dimensions of BHC continue to come together a spectrum of exegetical possibilities will surface on its own – I have some hunches about this spectrum, but am too absorbed with stuff ‘under the hood’ to care very much about it.
One crucial aspect of my own composing process is the ability to listen to the work as it comes along; this is most often achieved by using notation programs which can ‘play back’ the notation, or by arranging the work for piano. In some instances mockups by small ensembles are possible which, though not finished musical works, can give detailed glimpses of what the final version might be like.
I have a mockup like this which I’d like to share at soundcloud.com (see link below); this is the opening of Blood Hunger Child arranged for flute, saxophone, and piano. Some of the abrupt changes in mood and dramatic instrumental gestures in this arrangement provide the kernels for many of the musical ideas in the work. Thank you for listening!
HF: I will be very excited to hear the work sung. For now, though, we leave you with this teaser. And, of course: More to come.
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