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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Stephenson’

Big, Bent Ears, Epilogue: We’re Not Actually Here

October 14, 2015 | by

Joseph Mitchell amid the wreckage of Lower Manhattan.

Joseph Mitchell amid the wreckage of Lower Manhattan.

Big, Bent Ears,” our ten-chapter multimedia series with Rock Fish Stew, has come to a close. Over the past seven months, this “serial in documentary uncertainty” has enfolded a host of writers, artists, and musicians, including Joseph Mitchell, Jonny Greenwood, tUnE-yArDs, Sally Mann, Cormac McCarthy, Grouper, Nazoranai, Matthias Pintscher, Tyondai Braxton, the JACK Quartet, Swans, Tacita Dean, and Cy Twombly, as well as artists of a different stripe: a family of piano tuners, a chef, a translator, and, of course, a documentary team. There were also multiple audiences, an earthquake, strangers on a train, and the city of Knoxville.

We’ll leave you with an epilogue in which Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss return to Mitchell’s midcentury chronicles of New York City and sift one more time through his collected objects. This postscript is also an introduction to a filmed interview with Laurie Anderson, whose comments typify the spirit of uncertainty that binds the series.

 Read the epilogue here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

Prizes That Don’t Start with N

October 8, 2015 | by

Coltrane in 1963

All eyes are on Svetlana Alexievich for her Nobel win, which Philip Gourevitch rightly calls “a long-overdue recognition of reportage as a form of literature equal to fiction, poetry, and playwriting.” The Review published a piece by Alexievich back in 2004—but we’re celebrating more of our contributors this week, too.

First, congratulations to Sam Stephenson, whose June 2014 piece for the Daily, “An Absolute Truth: On Writing a Life of Coltrane,” has garnered him an ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award. Our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, will be awarded the same prize for his piece “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie,” published in The New York Times Magazine in April of last year.

Second, hats off to Rachel Cusk, whose novel Outline, serialized in the Review last year, is a finalist for both the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Scotiabank Giller Prize—both from Canada, where Cusk (who knew?) was born.

That is all. You may now resume your previously scheduled Nobel Peace Prize speculation.

Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 9: Surrender to the Situation, Part 2

September 16, 2015 | by

Photo: Ivan Weiss

Photo: Ivan Weiss

 

When I was going to school for classical music … I had about a month to get … my reading together. But I still learn by ear a lot faster. I can feel what I need to do. You can’t write out all those subtleties. I have to hear it, and then take it inside. I have to have the sound in my head, and then go for that.

Chapter nine of “Big, Bent Ears” considers what it means when the most reliable part of a musical performance isn’t the instruments or the score or even the musicians themselves, but their intuition. I don’t mean aptitude or talent; I mean that unknowable knowledge, that abstract certitude that the path you’re headed down is right. Our case study is the three-person percussion ensemble of  Tyondai Braxton’s HIVE project. Braxton’s minimal instructions—“Be still. Don’t look around. Just play.”—leave ample space for his percussionists to be shaped and guided by sound.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

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Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 7: Anatomy of a Sequence

July 22, 2015 | by

Tape markings on the stage of the Tennessee Theater indicating equipment placement for tUnEyArDs's set at the Big Ears Music Festival in 2015. Photo: Kate Joyce

Tape markings on the stage of the Tennessee Theatre indicating equipment placement for tUnE-yArDs’s set at the Big Ears Music Festival in 2015. Photo: Kate Joyce

What do crushed tulips, baseball, and Jonny Greenwood have in common?

It’s the kind of question that would only be asked in “Big, Bent Ears,” Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty.” The series’s seventh chapter examines the process and work of photographer Kate Joyce (the answer to the riddle above), a member of their documentary team and an erstwhile child detective. Regular readers will remember Joyce’s work from our “Bull City Summer” series, where her typologies of ball markings on the outfield wall, bubblegum-wrapper lawn darts, and abandoned cups of melted drinks offered an accounting of the game’s periphery. For “Big, Bent Ears,” Joyce takes a similarly sideways view of the action, and her need to look beyond a subject (sometimes literally) in order to see it more clearly defined is on view in her filming of an interview with Greenwood earlier this year:

I was looking for a way to bring the outside in, to invite the street into the room. The way we framed that shot was to have Greenwood sit nearly in front of a window and focus the camera lens through the window on the exterior. I had spent so much time walking around Knoxville, photographing scenes around town. I wanted to see if there was a way to combine the street with the interview. I remember when the interview was over being disappointed that more things didn’t happen outside the window.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 6: Treatise on the Veil

June 25, 2015 | by

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Cy Twombly Sr., back row, far left, with the swim team he coached at Washington & Lee University. From the 1950 W&L yearbook, Calyx. Photograph courtesy of the Special Collections & University Archives, Washington and Lee University

In the sixth chapter of “Big, Bent Ears,” Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” the pair turn their gaze to Lexington, Virginia, where Cy Twombly was born in 1928; he grew up four blocks from Stonewall Jackson’s grave, though you wouldn’t know it to roam the town today. “A primary problem in biography,” they write, ‘is that a subject’s formative years are the least documented and the least available. Twombly is no different; the boy and young man are difficult to find, difficult to feel.” As they get a sense of the town and Twombly’s history there, their research leads them to a meditation on his famous painting, Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), and the connection between its sense of tragedy and Twombly’s roots in Virginia. First, though, they find a note on his high-school yearbook photo:

Tall, dark, and very outstanding—Cy is really one of the boys. He’s the only one of our class to have gained state-wide recognition (with his educated brush). Unlike many of us, he’s often seen with some weighty volume on a deep subject, and is well acquainted with the best in music—long-hair stuff, see? We know we’ll have even more reason to be proud of you, Cy.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.

Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 5: Alien Observers

June 4, 2015 | by

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Liz Harris of Grouper. Photo: Richard Rothman

The fifth chapter of “Big, Bent Ears,” Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” features the work of Richard Rothman, a photographer whose work demonstrates “depth, dedication, and skill in evoking the enigmatic relationship between natural and built environments.” Around the time of the Big Ears Festival, Rothman spent weeks exploring Knoxville and the surrounding Smoky Mountains for twelve to fifteen hours a day; the results are astonishing. He also went to the festival itself, where he photographed Liz Harris, who performs as Grouper. He says of her performance:

It was as though she had placed a veil between herself and the audience, but one that only served to draw them in and give her a heightened level of attention. The lyrics she offered up were as illegible as tombstones polished by time and the elements. The words, or what could be made of them, seemed to be shrouded in shadows—just as she was—while filmy guitar loops decayed into richly modulated, shifting patterns that oscillated between the technological and the human.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.