Various Artists ~ Things that a mutant needs to know

mutant cover 1In 1956, Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares published Short and Amazing Tales*, an anthology of magical realism and adventure.  This is the follow-up, 55 short stories accompanied by 55 short songs: flash fiction and micro music, curated by Reinaldo Laddaga.  Intriguing literature is matched by beguiling sounds, as 18 musicians, including Alan Courtis, Francisco López, Machinefabriek and Andy Moor, contribute impressions of the prose.  The result is a mélange of thought and emotion, as magical realism finally finds its soundtrack.  Laddaga’s advice is to listen while reading (or read while listening), in order to intuit the relationship between text and sound.  This is excellent advice.

One of Laddaga’s self-imposed rules was that he include no works published after 1956; the author’s “imaginary second volume” is intended to be realistic.  The original volume toys with ideas of time and perception, from the famous “Dream of Chuang Tzu” to the charming fable “The Brahmins and the Lion”.  Zen lessons are interspersed with history and fantasy.  The same holds true of the new collection.  In D.H. Lawrence’s “Fantasy of the Unconscious”, the Lord creates the world, “except”, writes Lawrence, “I know nothing about the Lord, so I shouldn’t mention it”.  Silvia Borzelli backs the story with prayer cymbals and hums.  Sir John Mandéville writes of a powerful sea that holds no water, while Yannis Kyriakides plays a frantic piano like a man drowning in sand.

mutant totalIn the section titled, “Some Animals”, Laddaga scores Julius Caesar’s description of elk with percussion and war-like chants, while López amplifies claustrophobic tunnel echoes to back a Chinese folk tale about shape-changing stags.  Barbara Ellison uses flutes to portray unicorns, while Gabriel Paiuk scatters white noise to illustrate the Yamana legend of the marutuwérelakípa.  In the section, “Some People”, the tales grow darker and the music shifts to the deliberately odd.  It’s only when one stops to think about these pairings, literature of centuries past linked with contemporary sounds, that one realizes how well Laddaga has done his job.  Every good folk tale is timeless, and a phantasmagorical parable has no contemporary.  It’s only fitting to match such stories with sounds that resist era-based features.  Every artist yearns to transcend time, to be appreciated beyond one’s own tribe and lifespan.  Could Paul McCartney write a decent two-minute song about the scent of an apple?  Perhaps, but such a song would soon seem dated, unlike Alan Courtis’ rustles and chimes, which will probably sound just as new – and ironically, just as old – after every current listener has died.

Fringe art, from music to literature, theatre to museum, requires greater attention than mainstream art.  Some people just “don’t get it”, and those who do are often considered mutants.  What a mutant needs to know melds two disciplines into one, offering a Rashomon-like view.  Fans of each will find their lives enriched by the experience.  (Richard Allen)

* reprinted as Extraordinary Tales

Available here (with sound samples)

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