'Arthur Echoes'

Image by Noah Saterstrom

This post presents recordings inspired by the life and work of the musician and composer Arthur Russell. A limited edition collaborative chapbook written by CA Conrad and Thom Donovan called Arthur Echo (Scary Topiary Press, 2011) addresses Russell’s haunting and beautiful recording World of Echo. In this excerpt from the co-written introductory statement, the authors describe their process: “While house sitting for friends in Philadelphia we collaborated on the following (Soma)tic exercise, playing Arthur Russell’s CD World of Echo on repeat on all five floors of the house. We moved from floor to floor from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., taking scheduled breaks for food, conversation, and checking in for further fine tuning of the (Soma)tic maneuvers.” Conrad and Donovan read the entirety of their chapbook (with the exception of the two introductory statements) on February 8th, 2011 at the Zebulon Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Listen to CA Conrad’s section of Arthur Echo.

Listen to Thom Donovan’s section of Arthur Echo.

Arthur Russell was known for creating music in various, seemingly disparate musical genres. Conrad and Donovan’s collaboration evokes Russell’s sense of multiplicity in their heterogeneous response to his work. Conrad’s piece adopts a slightly more embodied individual perspective while Donovan’s work tends to tap into a sensibility of ambient assemblage. In Donovan’s introductory notes he writes: “We also spent much of the nine hours improvising lines with a set of books I had brought with me from NYC to Philadelphia, many of which were of a holy, metaphysical, or medical import.” When one listens to Russell’s World of Echo, it’s impossible to miss the confluence of these elements. One hears an instantly identifiable but transitory voice moving through an equally porous instrumental atmosphere. The voice and cello weave in and out, endlessly emanating, accreting, and decaying. The chapbook’s design (Conrad’s poem on the left pages of the first section facing an equal amount of blank right pages, and Donovan’s poem on the right pages of his section following an equal amount of left blank pages) creates a similar experience of utterance and delayed silence, of singular presence resonating with the discourses of larger communities.

Kevin Killian’s reading from the launch for EOAGH #3: Queering Language in Philadelphia in 2007 begins with a piece called “Norwegian Wood” and concludes with the poem “Is It All Over My Face?” which touches upon a brief affair Killian had with Russell in the late 1970’s. The title comes from an Arthur Russell (under the moniker Loose Joints) disco song of the same name, which Killian briefly quotes/sings. I loved the way Killian stops casually throughout the poem to provide a micro-anecdote or to add a piece of context here or there. Killian brings out different aspects of Russell and his work. His half-joking skepticism of Russell’s Buddhism and the way he emphasizes the obvious sexuality of the song’s title provide further vantage points from which to consider Russell and his work.

Watch Killian read “Is It All Over My Face?” in a video recorded at the University of Maine at Orono in 2008.

Listen to the song “Lucky Cloud” from World of Echo.

Listen to the song “Place I Know/Kid Like You” from World of Echo.

Listen to one version of the song “Is It All Over My Face?”

More work by Noah Saterstrom here.