US - New York - Full Moon 161 - 11/02/09
Asthmatic Kitty Records
Another Sufjan project but quite something completely different than everything he's been up to earlier. The BQE is a cinematic suite inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (which was poorly planned, badly built during 1939-1964, and has become an icon) and the Hula-Hoop (!), originally performed in the Howard Gilman Opera House in celebration of the 25th anniversary Next Wave Festival in October of 2007 (commissioned by Brooklyn Academy of Music).
The film is self-made home-movie (8mm/16mm) documentation, included animated footage and time-lapse photography, in-camera editing, slow motion - everything done DIY-style. (think Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy; Koyaanisqatsi, 1982, Powaqqatsi, 1988, and Naqoyqatsi, 2002). The music is
composed by Sufjan Stevens for band and chamber orchestra. Crazy? Yes, no doubt.
As this is a symphonic film score, this is far off from Sufjan's enchanting, often epic folk-pop storytelling. The BQE is opened by a prelude and an introductory fanfare, and has a closing postlude. In-between are seven movements and three interludes. High-brow stuff, eh? I must admit, though there are some nice classic movements in here, I have some problems getting really into it. I guess hearing this piece of work accompanying the film itself is a
far better way of experiencing The BQE. Names of inspiration dropped are Gershwin, Terry Riley, Charles Ives, and Autechre. I also recall Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother when listening. Maybe also one could mention Philip Glass, who composed the music to the aforementioned Qatsi film trilogy, even though Glass is more on the minimalist side. Sufjan Stevens is a multi-talented, modern genius, and an eccentric for sure. Even though this is far from being 'popular music' as we know it, here are some sequences being sort of signature Sufjan Stevens melody work.
As a 'gesamtkunstwerk' The BQE is quite fascinating. But, it's maybe more fascinating than enjoyable, I must say. As a collectable, this is joyous stuff. The limited edition vinyl is a treat: some 40 minutes of music a gatefold album (widescreen "triptych" display), on 180-gram vinyl, including a huge 32-page booklet (with liner notes and photographs), plus a 40-page, black-and-white graphic novel comic book, Super Teenage Hooper Heroes (drawings
by Stephen Halker, story by Sufjan Stevens/S. Halker) (a fully coloured version of the comic book is available separately). The CD+DVD includes the original 16mm/8mm film. A massive piece of work, for sure, but, I guess I won't play it too often.
When will there be a new 'normal' album, Mr Stevens?
Copyright © 2009 Håvard Oppøyen