A curious pleasure lately in seeing musicians alluding, whether through explicit titles or more subtly through various signifiers, to literature I have some personal history with.
This occurred recently with Michael Pisaro’s July Mountain, linking a Wallace Stevens poem, the last the great poet would see published, with Pisaro’s prismatic music inspired by, and sourced from, mountains in California; then again, as I continue listening to Pisaro’s a wave and waves, taking at least some of its animus from John Ashbery’s ruminative, 21 page poem, A Wave.
Now I am digging into the Joe Foster/Kevin Parks two-CD release, Acts Have Consequences, and there is a nod to Jorge Luis Borges, a writer I referenced in my thoughts on the sound world of Rafael Toral [entitled, after the staggering acts of creation in the Argentinean’s strange bestiary, The Book of Imaginary Beings].
Well, I was an English major in my misspent youth, reading with an avidity and affection diminished over the many ensuing years. Sweet to be reconnected to these old friends, and in the case of all three cited, Stevens, Ashbery and Borges, I need reach no further than my home office for the referenced works in the music under review.
The Foster/Parks piece entitled The light they give is insufficient and unceasing [translated in my New Directions paperback edition as The light they emit is insufficient, incessant] is lifted from Borges’ short story The Library of Babel.
Borges imaginarium here is a library that is the universe, containing an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of volumes, too many to read, too various to derive meaning from, and tended to by librarians who are a sort of hermetic cult, endlessly seeking light from the stacks around them.
But alas, laments the guide through the labyrinthine library, I know of an uncouth region whose librarians repudiate the vain and superstitious custom of finding a meaning in books and equate it with that of finding a meaning in dreams or in the chaotic lines of one’s palm.
Carry a little of that admonition into your listening to abstract music such as Foster and Parks offer here.
Even while Borges, consummate creator of mandalas of contradiction and paradox, adds
No one can articulate a syllable which is not filled with tenderness and fear, which is not, in one of these languages, the powerful name of a god.
All italicized passages, as well as the post’s title, from Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, New Directions Paperbacks