When you learn that Stetson played saxophone for Tom Waits, it makes perfect sense. The middle of the second song, “Judges” sounds like the instrumental break for any of Waits’ newer songs. Of course, once Stetson starts really wailing you realize that Stetson doesn’t need Waits’ lyrics to tell a story. With just one big-assed bass saxophone, Steston can say quite a lot. He plays with circular breathing, meaning that he doesn’t have to stop to take a breath, he breathes in through his nose and out through his mouth at the same time (this is of course impossible). The bass saxophone weighs some 20 pounds and is massive and Stetson makes it sound like everything from an oil tanker to a field of runaway horses. Oh, and he also has pretty melodies and songs that sound longing.
This disc is part two of a trilogy, but this is the first of his records that I bought (thanks to a release via the folks at Constellation–I wonder if they will redistribute Pt 1). There is a story that runs through these discs, although honestly, I’m not entirely sure what it is. But that doesn’t matter to me, what matters is Steston’s amazing skills.
There are evidently a couple of overdubs on this disc, but for the most part it is just him and his saxophone (and 24 microphones). The microphones were placed all over the room, on the instrument itself (to pick up the clacking of the keys) and even on his throat (when he makes those “voices muffled by a pillow” sound, that’s the throat mike picking up voice–singing while he is playing (which is impossible)).
The album features a couple of spoken word sections by Laurie Anderson, whose clipped, non-inflected voice gives this otherworldy music an even more otherworldy feel. And there’s two songs sung by Shara Worden. Other than that, it’s just the man himself.
Prepare to be amazed by this man’s talent. But also prepare to be a little frightened by what you hear. This is not timid music by any stretch. There’s some scary stuff on this record, especially if you listen in the dark. More especially if you listen loud (which you absolutely must do to hear all the nuances). On first listen, this may sound like a noisy jazz record, but the more you get into it, the more amazing it becomes.
[READ: October 11, 2011] Moby Dick-in Pictures
Matt Kish has accomplished an amazing thing. He has drawn a picture a day (more or less) to accompany every page of the 552 page paperback version of Moby-Dick. He takes a small passage from each page and renders an image for it. One thing this book is not is an illustrated version of Moby-Dick. It doesn’t purport to be. You won’t get the whole story from this book. It’s not a cheat sheet for high school students. If you haven’t readMoby-Dick, this will give you a taste for the story–almost like a preview for a movie. And hopefully it will compel people to read the original. If you have read Moby-Dick, this is a wonderful companion. Not only will the pictures give you fascinating insights into the story (and into Kish, of course), but seeing sentences excised from the book to stand alone makes you aware of the book in ways you just aren’t when you’re reading it as a novel.
Kish admits he is not an artist, which while not false modesty, is certainly selling himself short. He has an awesome style of illustration. I am especially excited by his vast pictures with small details (lots of pages where there are small circles with lines in them or, for instance, the details on Queequeg’s face) and when he uses bold lines to create vast, weighty iconic pictures. Here’s one example of his awesome use of multiple straight lines. I mean, it’s gorgeous.
But I also love the whole conceit that an artistic shortcoming for him has turned out to be an absolute boon. Kish says he cannot render the human form and so he made the conscious decision to make the seamen more like avatars than people. It’s daring and a little odd, but it works wonders. I admit that I was a little less than excited by the very first page of the book–I was disconcerted by Ishmael and his utter lack of features. (I actually like the way he is rendered later in the book better–call it an artistic growth). But by the time her gets to Queequeg, or the gorgeous Tashtego it’s obvious that his decision was genius. Just take a look at the marvel that is is Ahab (left). First off, the colors are amazing. As are the details of the whale in the corners. But look at him–he’s a metal machine–shiny and tough–part ship, part whale. Look at the awesome shading and detailing of the blue “coat” that he’s wearing. He’s even got the badge of Moby-Dick on his belt! And then there’s the pegleg–the most beautifully drawn pegleg ever. It’s really stunning.
Now you’re also noticing that there’s all kinds of diagrams behind Ahab. Kish used to work at a bookstore and he hated seeing old pages of books thrown away (he has since become a librarian, which makes sense–although as I librarian I learned that librarians are actually quite cavalier about throwing away old books once they are beyond use). So he brought these pages home. And, given the density of the layers of meaning in Moby-Dick, he decided to draw his pictures on these old pages. So on virtually every page you can see something in the background. Most of the time they are these circuital diagrams, which are wonderful. But there are several drawings where the found pages are pages of text from books. And I have to say if these were serendipitous findings then he has amazing fortune. Some of the pages tie in so perfectly it is wonderful.
Like the page that is headed “Cetology” and is from what, a textbook on whales? Or several other pages that I wish I had taken notes on, because they were really wonderfully chosen. He even has a drawing on a title page of Moby-Dick. I have to ask, did he really find that or did he buy it for the project?
One of the things that I really love about the whole project is that each picture is a hand-created object. He uses ink and paint and collage and pens and markers. And some of the pictures are, if I may be bold, sloppy and scratchy. Some of them look like he maybe just wanted to have a picture done for the day. And even if I don’t like those pictures so much, I love that he included them. I love that it shows Kish in his art, in his milieu.
One of the best things that Kish does is to include the dates completed with the drawings. You can see when he cheats and takes some time off (there’s an early part where he doesn’t draw for about two weeks, which I believe corresponded to his moving into a new apartment!). And there’s an occasional week off here and there (I hope for a vacation). But as he gets closer to the end, you can see him drawing on major holidays! Even on the Fourth of July! But the date-stamp is a wonderful addition because you can see when he really gets on a roll. You can see several pictures done in one day that are stunning: similar in design and style, and you know he was in a groove that day.
It’s also notable that several pictures were done very much out of sequence. Specifically, a series of Moby-Dick aphorisms which were done about fourteen months into the project. I’m not sure why he redid them or what the originals looked like, but I think it’s a great decision. The new aphorism pages are consistent in design with colorful bursts that highlight some wonderful quotes from the book. And who knew Moby-Dick was so quotable?
As I’m writing this I keep going back to his site looking for pictures to share here in this post. When the obvious thing is for you to go to One Drawing for Every Page of Moby-Dick and see them for yourself. But you should only do that as a precursor to buying this book. This was a labor of love and I’d love to see Kish get some rewards for his efforts.
Back over the summer of 2010, I read Moby-Dick for the first time. Daryl L. L. Houston dedicated his Infinite Zombies site to a group reading of Moby-Dick. Because I had such a good time reading with him for Infinite Jest, I knew I’d want to be a part of his Moby-Dick group. I even got to write a post about Queequeg. I enjoyed Moby-Dick so much more than I thought I would. True, some parts are slow as dirt, but it’s still a fascinating and enjoyable book. Then, shortly after reading that, I read ; or the Whale, compiled by Damien Searle (read the post to find out about this odd little book, it’s too hard to explain briefly). And now I have read this condensation ofMoby-Dick. The story has really followed me. And yes, one of these days I will read it again as well.
I first learned about this book during the Infinite Zombies Moby-Dick read. I was a part of that group and even have several posts there. The first post that Matt made about his illustrations came on May 24, 2010, and I couldn’t believe that he was really going through with this massive undertaking. What’s awesome about having this Infinite Zombies blog available is that the book Moby-Dick in Pictures lets the pictures do the talking. There’s a brief introduction, but other than that, it is all about the amazing pictures within. The blog (click this tag for all the posts about the illustrations in progress) gives an amazing amount of insight onto what inspired Matt and how he dealt with the joy and difficulty at the same time. And since then, the book has received lots of press (hooray) and he has done several interviews as well. That is so cool. And I feel honored to have been tangentially around during the process.
On a personal level, I have been doing a similar project (in that it’s a drawing a day, it has nothing to do with Moby-Dick) for over a year and a half. It’s called A Daily Doodle (I’ll have 542 pictures up as of this posting–so that’s not even as many as Matt did!). I set a similar restriction on myself–to do a page every day. Like Kish, I found that logistically impossible for all sorts of reasons. And so, like Kish, I would sometimes do more than one a day and skip other days (vacations especially), but I always make sure there is a picture for every day on the site. I don’t even have a wildest dream that someone would want to publish my pictures in a book. Frankly, many of them aren’t even interesting for meto look at, although I think some of the best work I’ve ever done is up there. But Because Kish had such great focus and a really cool idea, he was able to get his pictures into print. And I have nothing but respect for him and for this book. I would love to see this book sell well–for all of us scribbling away in a closet, because we love to draw.
Oh and hey, a whole bunch of prints are available for purchase too.