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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Stephenson’

Big, Bent Ears, Part 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, Part 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.

Big, Bent Ears, Part 4: In Search of Lost Time in Knoxville

May 13, 2015 | by

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Michael Gira and his band, Swans, sound check before their Big Ears set. From a video by Mika Chance

The fourth chapter of Big, Bent Ears, Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” pulls back the curtain on the art of documentary, and on one facet of that art in particular: chaos. As Weiss tells it, their attempts to capture Knoxville’s Big Ears festival were impeded at nearly every turn: interview subjects went AWOL, keys failed to open doors, and a search for an errant projector cord culminated in a late blitz to Walmart. Fortunately, at the end of the week the Rock Fish Stew team had documented a lot of great musicians; that’s here, too, including footage of Swans, the Kronos Quartet, and Holly Herndon, among others.

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, Part 2: Borderline Religious

March 25, 2015 | by

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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.