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Posts tagged ‘Tea Obréht’

The Dervish House

A couple of posts ago I was talking big about returning to regular posting, something I managed for all of about a week before everything fell in a hole again. I’m not going to make any more rash promises for the moment, simply because I’m still caught in the perfect storm of work and external commitments that has made blogging difficult since the end of last year. But I will try and make sure I do a bit better than I have in recent weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve got a few things happening around the traps. Over at The Spectator’s Book Blog I’ve got a long piece on Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, which despite being passed over for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in favour of Lauren Beukes’ rather fab Zoo City won the BSFA Award for Best Novel last week and is shortlisted for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. As I say in the piece it’s a travesty a writer of McDonald’s talents isn’t better known outside SF circles, especially given how little separates his work from that of writers such as Richard Powers and David Mitchell, so if you don’t know him I really do recommend checking the book (and indeed the review) out.

Elsewhere I’ve posted my review of Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife to the Writing page, something I promised to do weeks ago. Obreht is in Sydney for Sydney Writers’ Festival in a few weeks, and the book is both good and interesting, so take a moment to check it out if you get a chance.

And finally if you’re in Sydney you’ve got two chances to hear me gasbagging on in the next couple of weeks (and then about a thousand once the Festival begins, but I’ll do a separate post about that soon).

The first is on this week’s episode of TVS Channel 44’s Shelf Life, which features an interview with me about reviewing and writing online. I’ve not seen it, and the first screening was actually last night, but the show is on air three more times this week: today (Wednesday) at 1:30pm, Friday at 8:00am and Saturday at 12:30pm. If you don’t get Channel 44 or you’re outside Sydney you can stream the show from the TVS website.

And if that’s not enough I’ll be appearing alongside P.M. Newton, Kirsten Tranter and Sophie Hamley as part of When Genres Attack at Shearer’s Bookshop in Leichhardt at 7:30pm on Friday 13 May, a session devoted to exploring what it is that fascinates each of us about genre television and fiction, and to asking some questions about how we think and talk about genre, and how that’s changing as the cultural landscape changes.

And yes, I’ll be back later this week. At least I hope I will.

The Last Werewolf

Just a quick note to say I’ve got a number of reviews in publications that are just hitting the newstands.

The first is of Glen Duncan’s slick, sexy reworking of late-capitalist lycanthropy, The Last Werewolf, which you’ll find in today’s Weekend Australian. I’ve long thought Duncan was a writer who deserved a wider audience, and I suspect The Last Werewolf may be the book to do that for him: certainly he brings a panache and intelligence to the material which lends it real distinction.

Meanwhile in the land of Fairfax I’ve got a review of wunderkind-of-the-week Téa Orbreht’s debut, The Tiger’s Wife in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald (it’s not online yet, but if it doesn’t turn up by Monday I’ll post it on my Writing page). If you haven’t heard of Obreht yet I’m sure you will soon (if you’re in Australia she’s actually a guest at Sydney Writers’ Festival, the program for which was released on Thursday). Whether The Tiger’s Wife lives up to the hype seems to me to be an open question. It’s good, and Orbreht is enormously poised and polished for her age, but it’s also less innovative than the buzz makes it out to be, owing quite a lot to both the magical realists of the 1980s and more contemporary fantasy and horror writers such as Kelly Link, Margo Lanagan and Neil Gaiman (it’s actually rather interesting to speculate which of the two traditions she’s drawing upon).

As well as the Duncan and Obreht reviews I’ve got a long piece about Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud in the April Australian Book Review. It’s not online either, which would be a pity except that it gives me an opportunity to mention that ABR have just launched their new online edition, which not only allows subscribers to choose between digital and print subscriptions, but also grants access to ABR’s extensive backlist and other, online-only features. It’s a pretty amazing resource and very worth checking out.

And finally I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct you to Rjurik Davidson’s excellent essay about New Wave SF in the most recent Overland, which I read about ten minutes after publishing my last post. Davidson is of course the author of the justly-praised short story collection The Library of Forgotten Books but he’s also an astute and talented critic, and even if you’re not familiar with the writers lumped together under the somewhat misleading term who make up SF’s “New Wave”, it’s well worth a read (not least because the new China Mieville, Embassytown, is in many ways an extended homage to Silverberg and Aldiss).

Seal Lullaby (everything connects)

I’ve been listening to a lot of choral music lately, and in particular to Eric Whitacre’s most recent collection, Light & Gold, which features  the Eric Whitacre Singers and the King’s Singers, with soprano Grace Davidson on solos.

It’s a lovely disc, with gorgeous arrangements of poems by Cummings, Paz, Yeats and Silvestri, and five Hebrew love songs which also feature the Pavao Quartet. There’s a generosity and glow to Whitacre’s music which it’s difficult not to respond to, and this is captured beautifully in the recording, which is immensely warm and uncluttered (it’s probably not coincidental Whitacre himself conducted the pieces).

The highlight of the disc is probably the Hebrew Love Songs, but I’ve formed a great affection for the arrangement of Kipling’s ‘Seal Lullaby’. Almost too sweet, and deliberately sentimental, it’s similarly almost impossible not to respond to.

Some of you may know ‘Seal Lullaby’ from The Jungle Book, where it forms the epigraph to ‘The White Seal’, if not, it’s a poem that captures the intimacy and tenderness between parent and child very powerfully:

Rudyard Kipling, Seal Lullaby

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, O’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, there soft by the pillow.
Oh, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, no shark shall overtake thee
Asleep in the storm of slow-swinging seas.

The arrangement reflects this, rising and falling like the sea, or breath, and in a way it’s unsurprising to learn Whitacre had his own child in mind when he write it.

Delightfully Whitacre wrote the piece at the request of Disney executives who were planning a movie of ‘The White Seal’. It was, as Whitacre explains, one of those commissions which strike a chord almost immediately, and he wrote the song quickly, delighted by the lyrics and the idea of the seal and her child, and sent it off in very short order.

But then silence fell:

“I began to despair. Did they hate it? Was it too melodically complex? Did they even listen to it? Finally, I called them, begging to know the reason that they had rejected my tender little song.

“Oh,” said the exec, “we decided to make Kung Fu Panda instead.”

I’ve uploaded a video of Whitacre conducting an impromptu performance of the piece in Canada a couple of years ago at the bottom of the post: there’s a rather more polished version featuring the California Lutheran University Choir on YouTube as well, but I like this one, both because Whitacre himself is conducting and because one of the singers (rather gorgeously) is holding a sleeping baby.

But Whitacre is fascinating in other ways as well. Not only is he that most improbable of things, a rock star classical composer (complete with flowing golden hair and rock star looks) he’s also one fo a relatively small group of classical musicians and composers leveraging the possibilities of social media and the web not just to connect with fans, but to build communities around their music.

Part of this process is simply about using Twitter to open up the process of composition to public view. While I know novelists increasingly exteriorize their process via social media, there’s still something very striking about hearing a composer like Whitacre say things such as, “YEEESSSSS! Solved the transition. As always, I was over-thinking it; it’s always the simplest solution that is the most elegant”.

But it also involves Whitacre’s remarkable Virtual Choir Project, a project that brought together 185 singers in 12 countries in a special recording of Whitacre’s ‘Lux Arumque’. Each member of the choir recorded their part separately, then submitted them to Whitacre and Producer Scott Haines, who mixed the recordings together, then created an accompanying video.

Whitacre (who blogs, naturally) has written about the process, but you can also listen to him explain it on the video below, and listen to the recording itself beneath that. And if you like what you hear you can buy Light & Gold from Amazon, iTunes or JB Hifi.

And finally, just a little reminder of the way that once you’re looking, everything connects. After spending a chunk of Sunday afternoon writing my post about George Pollard and Moby Dick, I sat down in front of the television and turned on a recorded episode of the BBC’s South Pacific. And what’s the episode using as its framing narrative? The story of the wreck of the Essex. Then after a week of listening to ‘Seal Lullaby’ I go upstairs to read the next book I have to review, Téa Obreht’s rather brilliant debut, The Tiger’s Wife, and what’s it all about? The frickin’ Jungle Book.