Sehr Flash: Fiction Becomes Music
Austin composer Russell Podgorsek teams with lit journal NANO Fiction to create short short stories with original scores
Do you like a soundtrack when you're reading? Does some music help to set the atmosphere, to enhance the mood of whatever literary world you're diving into? Can a musical score complement a character shaped by words? If your response to any of these is "yes," then here's a flash for you: Sehr Flash. That's the title of a unique project which bridges the fields of literature and musical composition. Taking its name from a Germanic notation in music – "sehr rasch" means the tempo should be "very quick" – this cross-disciplinary collaboration has a couple of local composers creating new pieces of chamber music based on newly commissioned works of flash fiction, those really short short stories that clock in at under a thousand words each.
The idea originated with Butler School of Music alumnus Russell Podgorsek, who has experience writing prose as well as music. On learning that the literary journal NANO Fiction had shifted its home base from Alabama to Austin, he suggested a partnership across the music-lit border. As the nonprofit publication had been founded by Kirby Johnson with the aim of cultivating more attention for flash fiction and its writers, Sehr Flash seemed a good fit, so it signed on eagerly. NANO Fiction editors selected the half-dozen writers to provide stories, drawing heavily from the local pool with Callie Collins (co-director of A Strange Object), Kelly Luce (Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail), Michael McGriff (Our Secret Life in the Movies), and Vincent Scarpa (current Michener Center for Writers fellow), and filling out the roster with Jessica Lee Richardson (It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides) and Matthew Salesses (The Hundred-Year Flood). To help him with the original scores, Podgorsek turned to Hermes Camacho, a fellow Butler School alum and his partner in the venture Pale Blue. (pronounced "pale blue dot," in tribute to Carl Sagan's description of our planet when viewed from some distance in space). While in school, the duo had had a hand in or been responsible for such projects as the Excessive Noise Concert Series at the UT Fine Arts Library, the Sonorous Ensemble, and the annual Winter Wind Ensemble Special Event. To perform their compositions, Podgorsek enlisted the Cordova Quartet, currently the graduate string quartet in residence at UT and an ensemble that has, in what seems like only about as much time as it takes to read a piece of flash fiction out loud, become deeply involved in the Austin classical scene.
The idea was always to make the material available in NANO Fiction, and indeed, the fall issue – Vol. 9, No. 1, available through subscription at www.nanofiction.org – contains printed versions of the stories along with sheet music for the accompanying compositions. Recognizing that that may not be the optimal way to enjoy the music, NANO Fiction has taken the step of putting recordings of the nine stories and the music they inspired on its website. (All are in the one- to three-minute range, with the length of each musical selection closely matching the length of the story that inspired it when read aloud.) But as pleasing as that format is, you have to figure that better still would be hearing the stories read by their authors along with the musical counterparts performed live. Well, that's just what's going to happen this weekend – not once, but twice. A grant from the national arts advocacy organization New Music USA and support from the outreach department of the Butler School has helped make a live performance possible in Bates Recital Hall this Sunday afternoon, and the interest of the Texas Book Festival has resulted in the event being incorporated into its wild and crazy Lit Crawl on Saturday night. Both events are free and open to the public. All of which is to suggest that you make your plans to be at Clayworks on Saturday or Bates on Sunday, and that you make them "sehr rasch," you know what I mean?
Sehr Flash: Fiction Becomes Music will be performed Sat., Oct. 17, 9:30-10:15pm, at Clayworks, 1209 E. Sixth as part of Lit Crawl Austin and the Texas Book Festival; and Sun., Oct. 18, 2pm, at Bates Recital Hall, 2406 Robert Dedman. For more information, visit www.nanofiction.org or www.pale-blue.us.