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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Stephenson’

Big, Bent Ears, Part 2: Borderline Religious

March 25, 2015 | by

Joyce-piano

Photo: Kate Joyce

“Every now and then, when I’m tuning, I can make myself cry,” he said at one point. How can a piano tuner make himself cry? I thought to myself. What in the act of tuning would cause someone to do that? When I reviewed this footage months later, I could hear how dumbstruck I was. “When do you make yourself cry?” I asked, baffled.

Tim came back with an explanation that, in one fell swoop, answered the question, created a bigger mystery, and effectively ended that part of the conversation.

“This is getting sort of borderline religious here,” he said, “kind of with the f-word mixed in with it … When you say, God, I’m here—I’ll do the motions, you do the work.”

The second chapter of Big, Bent Ears, Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” is available now. We launched the series earlier this month; it’s a combination of video, audio, photography, and writing in various arrangements and states of completion. This week, Sam and Ivan talk to Tim Kirkland, a piano tuner in Knoxville, and to the members of Nazoranai, an improvisational noise band. Read the piece here, and stay tuned for the next chapter, which comes next Monday, March 30.

Big, Bent Ears, Part 1: There Are No Words

March 11, 2015 | by

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From Joseph Mitchell’s collected objects. Photo by Ivan Weiss

We’ve posted the first chapter of Big, Bent Ears, Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty.” If you missed it, we launched the series last week; it’s a combination of video, audio, photography, and writing in various arrangements and states of completion. This week, Sam and Ivan examine the overlap between two of their projects, one focused on the writer Joseph Mitchell and the other on the Big Ears Music Festival, featuring the musician Jonny Greenwood and the Wordless Music Orchestra, among others:

At some point that week, though, the word ear began, well, ringing in ours. The Knoxville music festival is called Big Ears, recalling Mitchell’s “bent” ones. We now wonder whether the type of careful, concentrated sonic experience on display at Big Ears—where the audience is invited to move outside their comfort zones and immerse themselves in new sounds—is analogous to Mitchell’s old-fashioned manner of venturing out into the back alleys of New York to hear people talk.

Read the piece here. The next installment comes in two weeks, on March 25—stay tuned.

Presenting “Big, Bent Ears”

March 4, 2015 | by

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Image: Natalie F. Smith

Many of you know Sam Stephenson from his excellent contributions to the Daily over the years. But he also has, with Ivan Weiss, a documentary nonprofit called Rock Fish Stew—they’ve worked on projects about everything from jazz to baseball. And starting today, they’re collaborating with The Paris Review on a new series of multimedia pieces called “Big, Bent Ears: A Serial in Documentary Uncertainty.” As they explain in the prologue,

We pursue hunches, welcome distractions, give ourselves space to associate freely. There’s something indulgent in this approach—childlike, some might say—but we try to balance our impulses with learned rigor … We’ll offer combinations of video, audio, photography, and writing in various arrangements and states of completion.

So why the name? Whose ears are both big and bent, save perhaps certain breeds of dog? Sam and Ivan explain:

The name Big, Bent Ears derives from our two current projects, the Joseph Mitchell Project and the Big Ears Documentary Project. Joseph Mitchell, the midcentury chronicler of the back alleys of New York City, was renowned for his uncanny ear … his first collection was called My Ears Are Bent.

Big Ears is one of the country’s preeminent experimental music festivals. It features the likes of composer Steve Reich, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, music-art icon Laurie Anderson, tUnE-yArDs, Nazoranai, and the Kronos Quartet, among many others … In an age of quick hits and attention deficits, Big Ears focuses on long listening and the noncommercial craft of music and sound.

Read their prologue here, and check back on March 11 for the first chapter of their story. We’re looking forward to seeing what they come up with, and how far afield they roam.

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.

This Week on the Daily

November 9, 2014 | by

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Davoser Café, 1928.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jenny Erpenbeck remembers her childhood in East Berlin: “My parents would bring me to the end of Leipziger Strasse, to the area right in front of the Wall … This was where the world came to an end. For a child, what could be better than growing up at the end of the world?”

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And Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi visits East Berlin’s famous Karl-Marx-Allee, where the Stalinist architecture still reminds of the dreams of another era.

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“At the Well”: four new paintings by East Germany’s Neo Rauch.

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Sam Stephenson on the insightful, unconventional approach to biography on display in Tennessee Williams: Notebooks.

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Why is a penny called a penny? Damion Searls looks at the etymology of our coins.

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Plus, Sadie Stein looks back at the dark days of her creative-writing workshop and Black Bart the Outlaw Poet strikes again. (“I’ve labored long and hard for bread,/ For honor, and for riches,/ But on my corns too long you’ve tread,/ You fine-haired sons of bitches.”)

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Bull City Redux

March 20, 2014 | by

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Kate Joyce, Pressbox, April 2013.

On view as part of the New York Public Library’s recent exhibition “Play Things”—on prints and photographs that deal in some way with games and recreation—was a series of nine baseball cards made in 1975 by artist Mike Mandel. Originally packaged with sticks of Topps gum, the cards feature some heavy hitters at bat, pitching, and fielding: Joel Meyerowitz (2), who prefers Kodachrome film; Aaron Siskind (66), whose favorite developer is Mircodol-X; and Betty Hahn (54), who likes to shoot with a Nikon. Oh, didn’t I mention—they’re photographer trading cards.

Mandel made them (there are 134 in all) in order to satirize, and frustrate, the commercial art market: the only way to collect all the cards is by making trades. Mandel’s link between photography and baseball is apt for another reason: baseball, a famously uneventful sport, is a game in which players and fans spend a lot of time observing—each other, the stands, the field, the sky—and what is photography if not the art of observing? Read More »

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Managed Mayhem

September 15, 2011 | by

W. Eugene Smith, Jazz Loft, ca. 1959, black-and-white photograph. Courtesy of the Heirs of W. Eugene Smith and the W. Eugene Smith Archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.

It’s late August in Brooklyn, and two men are trying to figure out how to hoist a piano up to a third-floor window and then release it so that it smashes onto the sidewalk below. “I think the major issue is just balancing out its weight,” says one. They push open a door to the roof to explore their options. A security alarm goes off; they’re undeterred.

The two men, director Chris McElroen and “professional problem solver” Dan Baker, are part of the team behind Chaos Manor, a multimedia performance inspired by the unconventional life of W. Eugene Smith. In the 1950s, Smith, celebrated for his front-line World War II photography, found himself increasingly at odds with his Life magazine editors. He quit his job and, several years later, embarking on what some might call a midlife crisis and others a visionary project, left his wife and children and moved into a dilapidated Manhattan building frequented not only by “derelicts, hustlers, and thieves” (in the words of his biographer) but also by some of the “biggest names in jazz.” From his fourth-floor apartment, Smith spent the next eight years relentlessly documenting the sights and sounds around him. His forty thousand photographs and 4,500 hours of audio reels captured hundreds of musicians, including legends such as Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, and Roy Haynes. Read More »

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