Matt Frederick is a member of The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra, which premiered its most recent work, Revue Cantata, as part of Sound Waves: DIALing Up an Epiphany at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.
There is this lovely quotation from Tadao Ando, architect of the Pulitzer’s building: “For most buildings, there is a function and a fiction . . . You can look at any city and see that many of the buildings have no fiction. They are purely functional. They don’t give people anything to think or dream about. They exist without inspiring people. The difference between a building and architecture is fiction.” One finds the manifestation of Ando’s words readily apparent when one visits the Pulitzer. The Pulitzer is a space like no other in St. Louis. It is a space designed for contemplation of ideas and of dreams. It is a space particularly suited for stories.
For an emerging artist working in any medium, nothing is more vital than the opportunity afforded by wherewithal to create and present new work to a public audience. So, when in July KDHX’s Ann Haubrich invited The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra to be a part of September’s Sound Waves: DIALing Up an Epiphany at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, we immediately and enthusiastically said yes. The opportunity to create and present in a space as remarkable as the Pulitzer is as vital as it gets.
The DIAL in DIALing Up an Epiphany refers to The Dial literary magazine, which, over the decade of the 1920s, published the works of a veritable “who’s who” of the Modernist English-language literary vanguard: T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams, among many others. The Epiphany in DIALing Up an Epiphany refers to the Pulitzer’s current exhibition, In the Still Epiphany, which includes a substantial amount of early-modern/modern paintings and sculpture by such artists as Picasso, Matisse, and Giacometti. DIALing Up an Epiphany, then, would tell a story through spoken verse and sound: the ways in which the literary currents of Modernism intersect with and interrelate with the artistic currents of Modernism. Ann had organized St. Louis poets, writers, and performance artists to read selections from Dial-published poets, writers, and playwrights in the gallery spaces of the exhibition. We were to provide some sound.
The medium in which The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra works is music. Specifically, we compose and then perform musical scores in accompaniment of silent films. Most of the films for which we have scored and accompany are from the 1920s. Our work is about helping to tell these films’ stories to a contemporary audience by composing and performing scores which support and complement the films’ visual narrative. For DIALing Up an Epiphany, our task was different from our usual practice but similar in ethos. Our task was to musically support and complement a selection of Dial-published verse and help present its story to a contemporary audience. Poring through editions of The Dial in July, we arrived at our selection for September: Wallace Stevens’ Revue, a set of six of his poems published in the July 1922 edition of The Dial. We had found our part of the story of DIALing Up an Epiphany to tell. Composing and rehearsal began in earnest.
This past Thursday evening at the Pulitzer, the readers and musicians each told their part of the story of DIALing Up an Epiphany. In addition to contemporary St. Louis poets and writers reading selections of verse from the The Dial’s 1920s editions, the Prison Performing ArtsAlumni Theatre staged a dramatic reading of a play published in The Dial by Luigi Pirandello. As I moved from gallery to gallery listening to the readers and performers, what struck me most was the continued resiliency and relevancy of 90-year-old words and the ideas and dreams behind them. Just like their contemporaries in the visual arts, the poets, writers, and playwrights of The Dial still have stories for us in 2012. Contemporary poets, writers, and playwrights were helping to tell these stories, just as the Pulitzer helps present the ideas and dreams behind the paintings and sculpture of In the Still Epiphany. In the terms of Tadao Ando’s quotation, Thursday evening’s DIALing Up an Epiphany was function as fiction.
In “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman,” one of the six poems published in The Dial as Revue in July of 1922, Wallace Stevens declares that “Poetry is the supreme fiction.” Within the spaces of In the Still Epiphany, the readers and performance artists of DIALing Up an Epiphany created with the artists of the past just such a supreme fiction. Hopefully, our Revue Cantata helped create within the walls of the Pulitzer a supreme fiction as well – to create within a still epiphany an epiphany still.