Though he may be best known as the mind behind the long-running ambient drone folk project Six Organs of Admittance, guitarist Ben Chasny is also a member of the noisy psych band Comets on Fire, and he’s made musical contributions to the legendary apocalyptic folk group Current 93. His most recent project is an interesting one—in collaboration with former Emeralds synth magician John Elliott, he’ll been spending the month performing live background (and foreground and middleground) music for a new work by playwright David Todd, also the author of Feeding Back, an excellent book of conversations with underground guitarists.
The play is called Things as They Are, and it’s a theatrical exploration of the life, work, and mystique of the great modernist poet Wallace Stevens. Stevens was lawyer and an insurance executive whose first poetry collection, Harmonium, was published in 1923, when he was already 44 years of age. Though it was published by a major house, its first edition was small, only 1500 copies. Its reputation took time to spread, but Stevens’ cult grew, and by 1955 he’d won a Pulitzer and was offered a faculty position at Harvard. Stevens’ poetry was highly symbolic and can be utterly baffling when taken at face value. Attempts to decode his works are futile, and they miss the point anyway—Stevens’ use of language creates beauty by privileging cadences and whimsy over meaning as it’s ordinarily understood. Take “The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage.” It’s clearly “about” Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus but…well, you’ll see.
But not on a shell, she starts,
Archaic, for the sea.
But on the first-found weed
She scuds the glitters,
Noiselessly, like one more wave.
She too is discontent
And would have purple stuff upon her arms,
Tired of the salty harbors,
Eager for the brine and bellowing
Of the high interiors of the sea.
The wind speeds her on,
Blowing upon her hands
And watery back.
She touches the clouds, where she goes
In the circle of her traverse of the sea.
Yet this is meagre play
In the scrurry and water-shine
As her heels foam—-
Not as when the goldener nude
Of a later day
Will go, like the centre of sea-green pomp,
In an intenser calm,
Scullion of fate,
Across the spick torrent, ceaselessly,
Upon her irretrievable way.
More after the jump…