What happens when stories get married with music

Sehr FlashRobert Faires, writing in The Austin Chronicle, describes a new project called Sehr Flash. Austin composer Russell Podgorsek teamed up with lit journal NANO Fiction to create mini stories with original scores. NANO Fiction editors selected the half-dozen writers to provide stories. Podgorsek and fellow composer Hermes Camacho then wrote chamber music inspired by the stories. The fall issue of NANO Fiction—Vol. 9, No. 1, available through subscription at www.nanofiction.org—contains printed versions of the stories along with sheet music for the compositions. Recognizing this may not be the optimal way to enjoy the music, NANO Fiction has added recordings of the nine stories and the music they inspired on its website.

Pairing literature and music remains a rather uncommon endeavor. Storytelling over musical accompaniment has a long history, although it’s never been especially common since the tendency is to want to turn words into song. Peter and the Wolf is a composition written by Prokofiev in 1936, in which a narrator tells the children’s story accompanied by an orchestra. Jethro Tull inserted a whimsical children’s story in the middle of their 1993 continuous music LP A Passion Play. In the early 90s, Laurie Anderson began performing tales from her retrospective book Stories from the Nerve Bible, culminating in the 1995 recording The Ugly One With the Jewels. Although commonly described as spoken word, the performance has only a superficial connection with that style of poetic recitation over music: these are stories, told like stories, with music adding ambience and dramatic support. Adie Hardy and Anna-Christina offer children’s audio books accompanied by music written for their Music Audio Stories series. But other efforts remain rare.

In 2007, I started this blog partly with the intent to publish a book I’d written, with different vignettes enhanced by songs that provided a multi-dimensional experience. In 2011 I turned the project into an ebook, Song of Fire, available in a variety of formats from Smashwords as well as from iBooks. I followed that up with an ebook of five ghost stories with music, A Book of Hauntings, also available from Smashwords. Inspired by Laurie Anderson, earlier this year I released an album of stories told over music, Tales from the Underground Bazaar.

Electronic file formats and the Internet offer a convenient way to pair literature and music in ways that were not available before: not just readings you listen to, but actively being a reader with the choice to either simultaneously listen to music that enhances the stories or listen afterwards and reflect on what you’ve read. Hopefully we will see this genre flower. In the meantime, consider yourself in the vanguard and check out one of these music/lit endeavors.

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