With all the talk of Kindles and other digital reading devices, one might glean the impression that the literary field is making a comeback. Sadly, this is not the case; the average American still reads only one book a year, and it’s probably not a very good one. In the U.K., the Penguin Modern Classics imprint has addressed the downturn by releasing 50 Mini Modern Classics: paperback reprints of powerful short work penned by international authors. Wist Records has now taken this a step further by repackaging the Minis with new outer sleeves and CD3″s in the brilliant Book Report Series. The first three installments can be purchased individually or as part of a set; a boxed collection is planned once the series has been completed.
Stefan Zweig’s novella Chess is the first to receive the Book Report treatment. The action takes place on a steamer, where a chess match between a master and a supposed novice yields unexpected results. The novice is clearly not what he seems. But when madness intrudes, the story takes a second, more shocking turn. This moment is the lynchpin around which the entire project revolves. In Craig Tattersall‘s score, it’s reflected by a passage so unlike all of The Humble Bee‘s previous work as to produce a sense of amazement: a swiftly-rising, distorted drone right out of the Petrels playbook, set smack in the middle of an ambient/classical piece. This daring move is as bold as any found in Zweig’s chess matches, and it defines the release as a whole. The last seven and a half minutes, featuring the string contributions of Emanuele Witzthum, are among the most powerful found in any release this season: resonant, emotive, and strong. Together, the two have produced a track of lasting wonder, one whose entwined themes of water and madness echo those of Plinth’s Music for Smalls Lighthouse.
Given the rich possibilities of the royal game, it’s surprising that so little music has been written to accompany it. Until now, the musical Chess and iLiKETRAiNS’ “A Rook House for Bobby” were the examplars. Now there are three. (Richard Allen)