Wist Books’ Book Report Series is a great idea that keeps proving itself anew with every installment. The series takes pocket-sized paperbacks from the Penguin Mini Modern Classics series and adds wraparound covers and CD3″s. Voila ~ instant soundtracks! The scoring of acclaimed novellas and short stories brings a totally new audience to the table, while those who come for the literature stay for the music. Everybody wins.
Vladimir Nobokov’s “Terra Incognita” is the title story of a short collection, originally published as A Russian Beauty and Other Stories. The narrator has traveled deep into the jungle with two companions, leaving behind eight Badonian guides. His purpose: to catalog the vicinity’s undiscovered flora and fauna. As they travel further, they fall victim to strange hallucinations: wardrobes and phantom plaster. First the fever sets in; and then, madness. Black dogs eat too much carrion. Mi, re, fa, sol. Finally, violence.
Gareth Davis & Francis-Marie Uitti score the piece with foreboding tones of bass clarinet and double-bowed cello. The musical settings are as harsh and bleak as Nabokov’s jungle. At times the pace slows to a near crawl, as odd noises flutter in the background: an imitation of the unknown sound beyond the illuminated perimeter. Little hope is to be found here, and yet the two musicians soldier on, deeper into the uncharted, unscored wilderness. Footsteps fall then fracture; tones briefly blossom, then dissipate. A cold, shuttered wind rustles like a metal sheet. Short breaths are taken, then exhaled. The environment grows fevered and claustrophobic.
I thought about our discoveries, our precious finds, the rare, still undescribed plants and animals that now would never be named by us … my last motion was to open the book, which was damp with my sweat, for I absolutely had to make a note of something …
The beauty of the undiscovered, the allure of the unknown, the compulsion to catalog and share are all found in Nabokov’s compact story. In the final minutes of Davis & Uitti’s score, strange animals twit and tweet in the sonic field: the unknown reclaiming its territory, playing on the bones of the abandoned notes. (Richard Allen)