Sufjan Stevens: The BQE

Yesterday saw the release of another production by Sufjan Stevens, which might move him one closer to write an album about every state in the US. It is entitled The BQE, which stands for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and thus early speculation might be appropriate in naming NY as covered, following Michigan and Illinois, though somehow I doubt it.

The Asthmatic Kitty website (Stevens record label) has a good piece of description on the ins and outs of the album and its other co-parts, namely a comic book along with a film that underlays the soundtrack… you should read it here. Not sure who the author is, but it would not surprise if it was Stevens.

The article mentions a number of broad influences behind the project, though never giving much away. The comic book “visualizes in graphic form many of the political motifs of the movie and soundtrack: mid-century urban theory, modernism, post-modernism, hoop dynamics, and the spiritual practice of Subud.” (Subudu, in case you did not know, sounds a bit like the Toronto blessing.)

Perhaps to illustrate, in Movement V Self-Organized Emergent Patterns, he quotes the Batman theme sound from the old 1966 Batman and Robin show, chock full of ‘Pows’ and ‘Kerflunkels,’ ‘Splats’ and ‘Bangs’ in 60s snot green, yellow and orange so as to cover up actual violence. (Remember the slanted floor in the bad guys layer? Very subtle way of implying crooked.)

The comic books villan is based on Robert Moses, whose urban planning created the “most notable icon of urban blight” in NYC. He designed the expressway as a means for commuters to travel out of the city to suburban areas. The comic books Captain Moses, according to asthmatic kitty, is “the messiah of civic projects” and is combated by three extraterrestrial superhero sisters who use hula-hoops to combat “his totalitarian social architecture”. These three have interesting names. Botanica incidentally is a cartoon character from the Beast Machines animated TV series based on the transformers principle, but her non-personified incarnation is a plant.

The aggregate work seems to criticise idealistic capitalism, while playfully reminiscent of  situationist influences (Unitary Urbanism), highlights how urban development changes the way the city developes and how this affects its citizenry. Sufjan Stevens helps rediscovery a beauty through reforming the effects of the blight, if only in art. Stevens in an interview for Quietus says of the work: “I  mean, there’s the whole politics of urban theory and urban planning in the 50s, and there’s the cosmology of the Hooper Heroes and the comic book created out of it, and the piece is also very meta-fictional, it’s about a struggle against an object of inspiration that’s lifeless and listless and lacking any kind of emotional environment.”

(edit) Oh man… and it must be a huge coincidence, but Michelle Obama does the hula-hoops too. Read more at the LA times Blog

The films definitely worth a peek.



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