Notes on Fiction: The Strange Library
Tuesday December 15, 2015
The Strange Library is a musical setting by Whitney George of the recent novella by Haruki Murakami. Designed and illustrated by famed book jacket designer (and frequent Murakami collaborator) Chip Kidd, the novella is packaged like a graphic novel, whose moody and mysterious depictions of a child’s darkest dream match Murakami’s surreal imagination.
The plot is equally eerie: a little boy enters a quiet library—“even more hushed than usual,” we’re told in the opening line—and is sent to Room 107, where he meets a creepy old librarian who leads him deep into a maze of dark catacombs beneath the library. There, we learn of the librarian’s ghoulish designs and the boy encounters a small man wearing the skin of a sheep and a pretty young girl pushing a teacart, their worlds now “all jumbled together.” Not even fresh-made doughnuts can sweeten the boy’s nightmarish predicament as the librarian’s prisoner.
This evening's concert consisted of a complete reading of The Strange Library with projections of Kidd's colorful and disorienting illustrations, accompanied by live music composed by Whitney George and performed by The Curiosity Cabinet.
The Curiosity Cabinet:
Alice Jones, flute
David Whitwell, Trombone
Joe Tucker, Percussion
Whitney George, conductor
1. curiosity cabinet (noun): 15th-century piece of furniture, typically made of wood, with many drawers and shelves of different sizes. These drawers and shelves were used to display a collection of artifacts, and these artifacts were often connected by a theme related to the collector’s profession. A scientist, for example, might exhibit remnants of botanical life or various medical anomalies, while a hunter might collect and display petrified butterflies or ravenous animal teeth. Curiosity cabinets were often the only place for laity to glimpse exotic pieces of fossilized wildlife, like the tip of the horn of a rhino or claw from a hawk. These cabinets—and the collections they housed— are often considered to be predecessors of the modern museum, and have influenced various contemporary organizations such as the grotesque Mütter Museum of medical oddities, Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum, and the NYC-based new music ensemble the Curiosity Cabinet (see definition 2).
2. Curiosity Cabinet (proper noun): Founded in 2009 by composer and conductor Whitney George, The Curiosity Cabinet is a chamber music collective dedicated to performing works of the 20th and 21st centuries, including standard repertoire, new works by living composers, and interdisciplinary collaborations. The Cabinet’s drawers are filled with the musical curiosities and talents of 20 instrumentalists and 6 singers, each as unique as any wildlife oddity (see definition 1). Among the ensemble’s accolades include (2010) and the CUNY Graduate Center's prestigious Robert Starer Award for George’s 13-movement work The Anatomy of the Curiosity Cabinet (2011). Other performance highlights include New York City's "Composer NOW" festival (since 2011), the premiere of selections of a new opera by David Bridges (2011), and performing as the ensemble-in-residence at the annual Hartford Women Composers' Festival (year?). Its recent interdisciplinary collaborations include the Satie-inspired theatrical installation Un Lieu de Vie with artist collective Concrete Timbre (2014) and The Curious Tale of Ed Leeskalnin with puppeteer Daniel Patrick Fay at Standard Toykraft Theater in Brooklyn (2015). In the 2015-16 season, The Curiosity Cabinet will be collaborating with Daniel Patrick Fay, Concrete Timbre on their newest theatrical presentation, 4 Wars, and Fresh Squeezed Opera on their annual spring production.