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February 13, 2009

Book Notes - Blake Butler ("EVER")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

I have been reading Blake Butler's writing for years in Bookslut, the Believer, HTMLGIANT, and his own blog for years, so when I was excited to hear he had a new novel.

EVER reads like a prose poem, filled with striking imagery and powerful prose.

Brian Evenson wrote of EVER:

"Within the psychic architecture that is EVER, Blake Butler explores the way bodies swell and contract, going from skin to house and back again. And the way houses too shrink to fit us first like clothing and then like skin and then tighter still. The result is a strange, visionary ontological dismemberment that takes you well beyond what you'd ever expect."

In his own words, here is Blake Butler's Book Notes essay for his novel, EVER:

In building a queue of sound to approximate the experience of my book EVER, I was more thinking of texture and tone than word or meaning⎯an aural replication of what I hope the book might feel like. The skewed arc here, in this music, and in the book too, to me acts like a series of doors and passages and holes, some with locks that can be keyed or picked open and some that stick, some which seem to go on forever and some that end before they've even gotten anywhere.

Animal Collective "#1"

This song reminds me of getting lost in light, though then perhaps attacked by rubber bodies you can't see. A lot of EVER is about the folding of space compressed in memory and in skin, and the way the looping synth at the beginning opens up as if into some mesmerizing tunnel, leading forward into the layered vocals, one human and high in the background and the other low and warbling and full of lurch. There seems something hyper-compressed in this song, but coming open: hypnosis w/o becoming hypnotized.

Singer "Oh Dusty"

This track, rendered partially from remnants of the defunct bizarre and deconstructed band U.S. Maple, works in my mind as a half-destroyed aural map. I love the way it opens as if coming out of the first tunnel into some other warping byway, perhaps a ruptured bridge, in the grips of the exact same kind of disorienting screwdown the narrator in EVER experiences. Something like: you know where you are because you have been there all these years, and yet everything keeps come undone, keeps going off inside itself. This song makes me want to sleep on the back of a black horse into a house made of tissue paper.

Alain Goraguer "Ten Et Tiwa Dorment"

This song feels part collage and part reconstruction, part something layered in the brain, and, hopefully like EVER, has in its effect some of the aura of Lynch's Inland Empire, or the kind of dreams you have when sleeping very light, or, for certain, this song. Or maybe in the same way that in the room I live in now I always hope I'll find a hole in the wall of the room that I grew up in, and from that room reaching through to find another room that had been right beside me all those years, unknown.

An Albatross "Let's Get On With It!"

Coming out of the tunnel of Goraguer's sleep spore into the insane fist that is An Albatross: this kind of jarring is the exact juxtaposition of momentum I love in sentence-driven writing: the way when you are expecting something to lean one way, it leans full on into the other, and bites. There is a scene early in EVER where the narrator watches some strange children outside her house lifting up a bleeding dog off of the ground. This song always reminds me of that scene. I love the buried and total animalian bass line in the verses, if there can be called verses in this song–in fact, there are not, there are just parts strung together in a brief, spinning mirror that kind of works for me the way I hope the book does on its paper.

Slowdive "Melon Yellow"

And then right back into nowhere: coming out of the blather gnash into the slow echo drum with heavy effects, like getting out of a plastic bed into a bigger plastic bed. This song has been with me for years, probably having heard it many hundreds of times, and therefore somehow seems embedded in the years of the rooms this book contains. If there is any one song that gets the whole aura of what I wanted in a great percentage of these sentences, it's somewhere in this track.

The Dirty Projectors "Not Having Found"

The lyrics to this song repeat the phrase, "Maybe the truth in searching is not having found." I didn't realize that until I'd listened to it 20-30 times. I don't know exactly what I thought he was saying. I think this song is such controlled chaos, so much modern sound and layering mashed into a shell that sounds much more simple than it is, and again I think that's what I like most in writing: things that feel normative or on-the-face when they are first passed but then as they compile with their surroundings and in the after effect, begin to build a corridor or kind of residual maze.

Liars "A Visit From Drum"

I like that this song is able to take a single beat and sound and thread it thrumming through a whole song in a way that extends the song in some sort of mesmerisis. The texture of this sound, the words, the album it is encased in: these things share an aura with the house the book is set in, and contain a similar wanting in the pacing of the sentences and the air.

Boredoms "Chocolate Synthesizer"

A :51 second song that sits at the center of the book's soundtrack, in matching of a moment where the narrator finally seems to accept something set inside herself. This track is a clearing out of tone: slim, high-register notes collaged with notes of rhythmic nonsense, a sort of palate cleanser, mirrored for me in the center of the book at the narrator's last reach out into what is left around her⎯a world in which she seems to be the only one remaining, except in layered droves⎯another nod to Markson's ‘Wittgenstein's Mistress,' which I've found my book is full of⎯and thereafter into what for be begins the rise or fall into the center of her house and/or her mind.

4 song tunnel: Fantomas "Page 6" to Estradasphere "The Unfolding Pause on the Threshold" to Phantomsmasher "Digit Dirt" to Agoraphoric Nosebleed "Center of the Hive"

This 4 song act works as a set for me mirroring the narrator's descent into a layered fold made of herself enfolding with her home. To begin, the Fantomas's very brief ‘Page 6' (the title itself maybe a reference to the books the narrator reads inside the book) melds quick, heavy riffing and aural nonsense to open the second half of the sountrack of the book, mirroring, for me, a narrative section wherein the narrator is absorbed into her house by sinking through the floor inside her bathtub.

The second section of the tunnel is an aptly titled instrumental track by recentl defunct California band Estradasphere, which in addition to its perfect questing tonality, I happen to know a little story about in relation to its creation which in a way mirrors the creation of EVER: the drummer, an old friend Lee Smith, recorded percussion for the track live to a series of sounds and loops created by his bandmates, live in a studio where they could not see each other, and they were quite disoriented, and they were only able to communicate through rigged microphones and in the dark, all of which seems close to the state I wrote the book in while living at my parents' house after having my own home ruined by a tornado, and adds to the disorientation and the erupting that to me makes the texture exactly in the mind of EVER.

The sequence then climaxes with the absolutely brutal and yet still psychedelic realm-ism of Phantomsmasher's blast-beat drumming, mega-warped vocals (like the vocals of the narrator begins to record on tapes throughout the house to try to keep her mind at hand). The climax then climaxes within the climax, a mindfucked finalizing, with the throb-cement of Agoraphobic Nosebleed, when we finally reach, however spasmodically, ‘The Center of the Hive.' And at the center, we burst meat.

Cocteau Twins "Pink Orange Red"

Coming out of the ‘tunneling sequence', one of my favorite delay-slathered 3-chord progression ever, coupled with the nether-language babble of Liz Fraser: which for me replicates some of the use of gibberish language that appears inside the book, a way of speaking textually in a new language without knowing exactly what is being said (which in the book occurs in a sort of context and briefly, but for the effect feels quite the same). Even having listened to this song several hundred times now I still have no idea what Liz is saying, but I love the way she says it, and the way this whole song evokes its mode: backwards but made of light.

Wendy Carlos "Rocky Mountains"

A kind of afterthought to the sequence and the birthing of tongues out of it: a droning mood cut from one of my favorite soundtracks about one of the most haunting and image-ridden locations in all of film⎯a medium which as EVER begins to close acts as one of the narrator's few remaining methods of preservation of self in self, as well as self in undrowned surroundings. And again, the enfolding and absorption of aura: the song attributes the film, which has encased its actors, which each represent who they are as people and the other characters they have played, with attributes the book, which attributes the language, which attributes the author, and on and on.

Castanets "You Are The Blood"

This song is haunted & made of noise, but noise layered so far into itself it only creaks out at the edges and the seams: You are the blood flowing through my fingers / All through the soil and up in those trees / You are electricity and you are light. / You are sound itself…

The Angels of Light "Purple Creek"

& this song is haunted in a completely different way⎯laden with what has been and what is coming, wanting both to leave where it is and bring what it has lost back into itself. It has the insects, the lesions, and the layering of the body still coupling with itself as the book comes through its final pages perhaps more haunted then than it has at any other point, compressed beyond its cells.

Belong "Late Night"

The final track (from the aptly titled ‘Colorloss Record') here is maybe the one that kills me most⎯a song so layered and compressed against itself that it hardly even sounds wholly aurally there. This version of the song in fact is a reinterpretation of a song originally by Syd Barrett, a person trapped inside a person if there ever was one maybe, and here is represented masked in so many layers of production and masking that it almost does not exist. The end result is a track even more so trampled and caught inside itself, yet in the mask and mush of it you can hear that enormous song still encased, which in some way makes it even larger, and makes it learn to worm its way in through doors in the head you didn't know quite were all there: your head in wreaths despite being so frought and ruined and wrecking, and in the hidden layers, the eruption.

Blake Butler and EVER links:

the author's blog
the book's website
the publisher's page for the book
Goodreads page for the author
Goodreads page for the book
the book's unofficial video trailer
excerpt from the book

Black Biscotti review
clusterflock review
Exoskeleton review
Sean Lovelace review
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth review

Believer articles by the author
Bookslut articles by the author
BurnAway profile of the author
Holy Land interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)