Flower

The UpRightDown Show (and Tell)

It happened in mid-November, our very first live show at the Creek in Long Island City. World-famous Brad Lawrence served as MC, and The BTK Band improvised story-musical interludes between each performance. Though it was cold and rainy outside, the atmosphere indoors was warm and convivial. The Creek has a small, black-box performance space that seats about 40. On this particular night it was filled with performers, friends, fans of UpRightDown and the occasional cat (the Creek has two feline residents). Brad Lawrence has enough stage presence for a much larger house, and his hosting did not disappoint. The high point was when he took off his shirt to show us his tattoo, linking the story of its inception to the ironic Nazis of Episode 15.

All performances were based on episode 15 of our saga. Jim O’Grady told a wacky story in which he and Roni Levit, author of episode 15, are insanely INVOLVED. Steve Zimmer told us things about Joe the Nazi which nobody, not even the author of the episode, could have imagined.

Maria Layus screened an animation, which will soon appear on uprightdown. And Sherri Eldin screened a wonderful action-figure puppet show. Matthew Saks read a Spenserian sonnet. And Katherine Wessling turned into an old Italian lady.

Then Lee Berman and Peter Aguero read episode 15 of BOOK OF ZILPAH, to the whimsical musical accompaniment of Eric March, keyboardist extraordinaire for The BTK band. As Lee Berman shot out Ari Stophanes’s biblical Hebrew lines, Eric accompanied by improvising mournful Jewey, melodies. Then Peter Aguero read the KJV-style translation in his best testifyin’, revival hall raisin’, apocalyptic tones, to Eric’s organ chords. The audience went wild.

And to conclude, famous New York storyteller Bernie Somers got up and explained what he imagined would happen in the next episode. It was as hilarious as it was obscene.

Behind the Scenes with Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar. Photo by Adriane Colburn

Ravi Shankar. Photo by Adriane Colburn

Ravi Shankar is the force behind Drunken Boat, and one of the first contributors to our second issue. We first met at Oulipo in New York, co-sponsored by Drunken Boat. Here is the fruit of our recent conversation:

LEE BERMAN: Could you talk about the process of writing “Louis & Zelda,” in particular any formal constraints employed?
RAVI SHANKAR: Absolutely — in fact the poem that eventually ended up being written was quite distinct from what I had initially envisioned, which was a tritina with the added constraint that each stanza need include a colon. I’ll include the poem here, simply because it’s a piece that continues to resonate for me, though it was not suitable for UpRightDown because it was insistently lyrical and not narrative.

An Unverifiable Theorem

The gun once introduced must be forgotten
because its snub-nose gives a pocket the weight
of syllogism: no posthumous event can affect us.

Or, say, after it occurs, death cannot affect us:
it’s impossible to imagine what we have forgotten
when who we were no longer has any real weight.

Stripped of consciousness a body has the weight
of water evaporating from a lake: breath leaving us.
Once introduced the gun cannot be forgotten.

The weight of the forgotten: not what leaves us.

When I heard back from UpRightDown, I was told that I needed to tell the story of episode one, by including all or most of the narrative elements. So it was back to the drawing board and I decided to take a completely different tack. In the case of “Louis & Zelda,” my constraint was very simple: writing the entire piece as one sentence, a nervous system populated by a ganglia of clauses, each expanding upon and extending into the details of the first episode. I created a back story, fleshed out my impressions of the characters, give them a certain psychological dimension and complexity, with the hope that I might harness the momentum of the narrative to end, as Raymond Chandler might have counseled, on the pivotal gun. One breathless sentence, parsed into couplets and ending with a colon.

Annuradha, Sampurna, Dinah, Ravi. Photo by Sanskriti Kendra Foundation

Annuradha, Sampurna, Dinah, Ravi. Photo by Sanskriti Kendra Foundation

LEE BERMAN: Let’s talk about narrative poetry. Is the distinction narrative vs. lyrical (or prose vs. verse) important or valid to you? What was it like to turn a given narrative (plot episode 1) into verse?
RAVI SHANKAR: A source no less eminent than Helen Vendler has divided all poetry into lyric or narrative (sending aside the epic mode for now), so it’s a division that surely resonates for me. The lyric poem leaps, while the narrative poem develops; the space of the lyric is interiority, while that of the narrative is the external world; lyric poetry, to crib Walter Pater, aspires to the condition of music, while narrative poetry seeks out story; the lyric is about emotion and narrative, motion. Of course neither mode exists in a vacuum and they interpenetrate in most great works of poetry, but still I find it valuable to think in terms of song and story.

It was a challenge to turn a narrative into narrative poetry, simply because my predominant method is (neo)lyric; therefore I exploited enjambments and internal rhymes, allusion and analogy, all as means of differentiating my poem from the prose episode, even while telling the same story.

Norton anthology editor Ravi Shankar with the usual suspects. Photo by Marjorie Evasco.

Norton anthology editor Ravi Shankar with the usual suspects. Photo by Marjorie Evasco.

LEE BERMAN: As founding editor of Drunken Boat, you’ve been cross-fertilizing among the various arts (prose, verse, video, fiction, photography, web art, etc.) for years. Any advice for us novices at UpRightDown?
RAVI SHANKAR: First and most obviously, persistence is key. We just published our tenth anniversary issue this spring, yet pushing each issue out has been less certain than giving birth to a child. It feels every time like an impossibility, and it takes a great concurrence of magic and effort, sprinkled with a healthy dose of things beyond our control; for example, we published audio tapes of an interview with Norman Mailer because I happened to be teaching with one of his biographers and he had these audio tapes languishing in shoeboxes in his attic, which we then digitized. And in order to spread the word about our magazine we had to engage in guerilla-marketing, from dropping off postcards at bookstores around the world to emailing countless writers, artists and arts organizations. There’s nothing wrong with a good dose of shameless self-promotion.

Next, take advantage of the vast network of distribution and mechanisms of exhibition available online. We’re committed both to the egalitarian distribution of art and literature and to publishing work that could not appear in print. Our paradigm is essentially different than that of our print counterparts and keeping that always foremost in our minds helps us move forward. We publish audio of a poet reading alongside a poem, we LOVE works that use the medium of the web as part of their compositional strategy and we welcome work and readers from around the globe.

Finally, live events. We like to supplement our publication with performances, or in the John Cage vernacular, happenings, that bring together writers, artists, video and sound artists. These events give the journal a vitality that we would otherwise lack and help bring together the disparate worlds of multimedia arts in a tangible form.

LEE BERMAN: What is your earliest experience of poetry (reading it, writing it)?
RAVI SHANKAR: Most likely my earliest experience with poetry was attending ritual Hindu ceremonies with my parents, where most of the liturgy was in Sanksrit. Hearing the syllables of an ancient language whose connotative meaning I could not grasp yet whose music bubbled in my bloodstream and profoundly moved me was probably one of the foundational moments in my creative life. I realized then, even though I was not conscious of it, the power of orality, of the breath and of sound moving through the air, and those lessons propelled me into my first novice poems.

LEE BERMAN: Name the one book you would take with you to a desert island.
RAVI SHANKAR: I’m tempted to play the Borges card and take some Library of Babel with me, that book that contains all other books, though that’s unfeasible and a cop out. Wow — when I’m confronted with such a question it brings me to the limits of my own erudition — do I take a book I’ve read multiple times and gleaned new insight from each time, like Moby Dick, about which Alfred Kazin said “gives us the happiness that only great vigor inspires”; do I take a book I’ve always meant to read but shamefully never have, like Finnegans Wake or Remembrance of Things Past? Do I take something like the Rig Veda or the Bhagavad Gita that provides the recurrent spiritual tropes of my heritage, else those thinkers, some Heraclitus or Emerson, who have spoken most poignantly to me? In the end, I could not choose, so I think I would take the one book that in a sense does contain all the others — the Revised Webster Unabridged Dictionary of 1913. I would spend my time on that island as a lexicographer and a wordsmith, poring over etymologies and mouthing pronunciations until I was ultimately washed over by sand crabs.

Ravi Shankar. Photo by Tina Chang.

Ravi Shankar. Photo by Tina Chang.

LEE BERMAN: Name the one movie you would take with you to a desert island.
RAVI SHANKAR: Hmm…well, if forced to make a choice, I think I’d take Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy: Blue/White/Red. For one, Kieslowski is a true master, for another the trilogy’s re-imagination of the political ideals of the French flag –liberty, equality, fraternity — still resonate for me on multiple viewings. I love how the films work together and separately, with lucidity and ambiguity, in narrative and in metaphor. They are for me the cinematic embodiment of Keats’s idea of negative capability and take the tropes of the comedy, the drama and the romance and turn them completely on their head. Plus Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy and Irène Jacob are sexy as hell and stranded on a desert island, I think I just might find such company useful.

LEE BERMAN: Name the one web site you would take with you to a desert island.
RAVI SHANKAR: Of course this answer will be seen as equally evasive as the Borgesian response to a desert-island book, but I would have to say, after thinking of and discarding many sites that encompass music, literature, politics and culture, that I would bring along Google. That’s pretty lame I know, and yet in my daily creative life, the multifaceted search engine has transformed the way I work in such a fundamental way that I can’t imagine life without having such a resource at my fingertips. So, sheepishly, I have to go with that most orthodox of responses.

UpRightDown

UpRightDown

Behind the Scenes with Daniel Levin Becker

I met Daniel Levin Becker two years ago in Paris at a colloquium on Paul Fournel. He had just graduated from college and was serving as a slave in the Oulipo archives — or, at any rate, this was my impression. I met him again, some six months ago at the Oulipo in New York festival, and was delighted to learn that he was now a member of that band of rats who build the maze from which they must escape. I am now doubly delighted that Daniel is playing the UpRightDown game. (Read his “Gold Swayed Shoes.”) I sat down a couple of days ago with this this brilliant young writer and talked about life and craft and witchcraft.

LEE BERMAN: As a member of the Oulipo, you are now officially trapped for life, and afterlife, in a rat maze. What is your current escape plan?
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: Am sans dash plan. As Sal Mara (what a man) scrawls, a smart rat plans a madcap rat-trap and thwarts that trap, laps at that trap’s snarls and scam-maps and parallax walls as a swank fatcat laps at a Manhattan. A savant rat — a packrat, at that –packs a fan and a lava lamp and a warm alpaca afghan, basks as ghazals and tankas and anagrams swarm and stalwart grammars fall apart. That pajama-clad rat sprawls, yawns, has a ratnap. That rat adapts and, at last, balks at vacant paths.

LEE BERMAN: As the newest member of the Oulipo, with the weight of mortality and immortality on your shoulders — how do you feel?
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: Well, let’s emend–we’ve elected the even newer member e-represented here Nevertheless, we’ll expect she resembles me: she felt perplexed, then extreme glee, then speechless reverence, then needle-ended nerves, then sheer vexèd stress, then redressed, peeve-free self-esteem. (Whee!) She felt redeemed. Me, c’est le même.

LEE BERMAN: Does Raymond Queneau appear to you in your dreams? What does he say? What does he do?
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: Still spring nights bring his winking spirit, grinning if I bid him sit (first midnight sighting I didn’t, which did, I think, miff him), livid if I dismiss his impish witticisms. If I’m writing simplistic kindling — nihilistic philippics, inspid chick-lit — his sighing misgivings diminish it till I pink-slip it; if I’m killing it, slinging sick fibs with brisk skill (”picnic, lightning”), his spirit insists I stick with it till I finish.

LEE BERMAN: Name three writers you admire.
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: Tlooth, Hopscotch, Omoo. Who jots down böks–oops, books–so good, so rococo, so non-stop cool? So long, to boot? Don’t know. Forgot who. Whoops.

LEE BERMAN: But seriously, IS there life after death?
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: Mm-hmm: bugs, gulls, skunks; glum bucks, plump ducks, sunburnt kudus, cumulus fluffs. But us? Nuh-uh.

LEE BERMAN: Now let’s talk about your brilliant talk of the town, “Gold Swayed Shoes.” How did you come up with the idea? Could you discuss any constraint you might have imposed on yourself?
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: As I recall, when we spoke in New York in April, on the occasion of my first reading with the Lipo Gang, for which I had read a few very short stories of specific lengths, mine-sincerely opined that it’d be a good idea for me to write a text of as many syllables as there were words (D, in Roman notation, in both cases). So off I set on my extremely lazy way. I’ve been fascinated for the last few months by shoes dangling from electrical wires, of which there are more in San Francisco than I’ve seen anywhere else I can remember, so I was excited to find the image so central to the plot of episode eleven.

Writing a monosyllabic text isn’t very hard, as formal constraints go; the inevitable accidental iambs and trochees are pretty easy to get rid of, by dividing everything into lines of ten words (or more or less, depending on one’s personal prosodic preference) and verifying at a few decibels that they hold together rhythmically. This part was kind of a lark, even if the cat did look askance at me. The biggest challenge there is getting a correct word-tally from Microsoft Word, which doesn’t know shit on the matter of hyphenation.

The other challenge, evidently, was to convey the happenings of the episode from a non-omniscient perspective, which made the whole second half more or less off-limits and forced me to be a bit byzantine in describing, say, the significance of the yellow badges and the whole yogic phantasmagoria thing. (I also didn’t find a convincing way to express “Shoah memorial” monosyllabically.)

I will say, for the record, that mastering which words are monosyllabic and which aren’t is way easier in English than it is in French, what with its incessant schwa-bandying. Nobody has ever looked at me so abhorrently as a certain high-ranking Lipo Gangster did the first time I tried to write a monosyllabic story in French. With the possible exception of the cat, for reasons explained above.

LEE BERMAN: But seriously, entre nous, what IS the point of writing under constraint?
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: Since I’m surprisingly bad at discussing this with a straight face, I’d rather paraphrase my elders and betters: Stravinsky said that embracing arbitrary limits can help us sidestep “the chains that shackle the spirit,” Perec simply that setting himself rules made him feel free. I buy that, I guess; I like it primarily because it’s a challenge that keeps teaching me new stuff regarding language, and because rules drastically reduce the third-guessing that creative writing typically entails in my experience.

LEE BERMAN: But seriously, do you really admire those three writers mentioned above? Come on.
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: Yes. God knows where we’d all be were Harry Mathews not Harry Mathews; Cortázar’s debut novel was sort of a dud, but most of the shorter and stranger works are great. Haven’t actually read Omoo, but why not? Herman was a total thug.

LEE BERMAN: Daniel, when were you born?
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: I was born six high-school stints ago, right into a landmark of dystopian fiction. (It was fiction, right?) As of this writing, I’m just about half as old as l’Oulipo.

LEE BERMAN: Isn’t it true you tried to sell Freedonia’s secret war code and plans?
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: No. You’re thinking of the environs of Mount Snowdon. The “secret code” is just the fine print from Welsh lottery brochures.

LEE BERMAN: Daniel, have you anyone here to defend you?
DANIEL LEVIN BECKER: No. Why, do you smell a rat? I have to go.

Behind the Scenes with Octavian Esanu

Octavian Esanu

Octavian Esanu

I ran into Octavian Esanu, international art expert and artist, in the staircase of Firestone Library, Princeton, and told him about UpRightDown. A couple of days later we received his image series, entitled UNTITLED which delighted us all.

I met Octavian a couple of days ago and we talked about life and craft.

LEE BERMAN: UNTITLED is funny, freaky, and beautiful. How’d you come up with the idea of using images form the Bodies exhibit to tell the story?
OCTAVIAN ESANU: The idea was delivered to me by Google. Trying to find a “character” that would express or emphasize the main (nodal) points of the first episode of your plot, I made a few searches using Google Image. I don’t remember what I was thinking at that moment, but I guess the search involved something to do with death–perhaps “corpus” or “body.” Google’s algorithm (for some reasons known only to the CEOs of this enterprise) pushed the images from the Bodies exhibition to the top of the page.

LEE BERMAN: 2. Have you used your art for narrative purposes before? I.e., have you ever told a story through images in such a straightforward way? Can you talk about the process of making UNTITLED?
OCTAVIAN ESANU: I have used images for narrative purposes, but never images of bodies.
Regarding the process of making UNTITLED: I’ve heard controversial opinions about the Body show, but before working on UNTITLED I had not bothered to take a closer look at this subject. In the process I did some research and came to realize how problematic this form of entertainment and education was. Many of these bodies have been smuggled (without their or their relatives’ prior consent) into the West. Some of these bodies have been bought and brought from ex-Soviet republics (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan), others from China. At some point I reached a moment of doubt; I was not even sure whether it was morally defensible to use or to exploit these anonymous bodies once again. Well, I decided to finish the project but promised to myself that in the future I would return to and engage more seriously with this controversial theme.

LEE BERMAN: Name three artists that inspire your work.
OCTAVIAN ESANU: I’ll name only one, I hope you don’t mind; he is a friend of mine who goes by the name Mark Verlan.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE book with you would take with you to a desert island, what would it be?
OCTAVIAN ESANU: Frankly if this were to happen I would rather prefer to have no books there, only some plain white paper, if this were possible. Or to get a lot of books whose ink had been washed out by the water.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE work of art you would take with you to a desert island, what would it be?
OCTAVIAN ESANU: Why would I need a work of art on a desert island? But if I suddenly needed one I think I could just make one from the locally available materials.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE web site with you would take with you to a desert island, what would it be?
OCTAVIAN ESANU: weather.com

Behind the Scenes with Brooks Reeves

I’ve never met Brooks Reeves. He appeared out of nowhere, and he was just what we were looking for: a lovely surprise. One day–back in issue # 1–I found a submission in my inbox from a complete stranger. It was the story that issue (Parisian girls, lost lover, fat gringos) told in the form of a crossword puzzle. Then, again out of nowhere, he submitted two amazing performances for issue # 2: a recipe and a comic strip.

Having never met this talented gentleman, I put to him a few questions by e-mail. Here they are.

LEE BERMAN: What got you interested in playing UpRightDown?
BROOKS REEVES: The thing about narrative is that we’re bred to see it everywhere. Just like the way a child naturally sees a face in gnarled bark or a Rorscah blot, we see stories everywhere. In a scrap of found notebook paper. In an overheard conversation. As humans we can’t help but fill in the blanks. There are so many different ways that people tell stories and an even greater number of ways that stories are conveyed that the possibilities of this online experiment are endless. Or at least they seem that way to me.
And I never have to worry about being bored. Each episode is a new opportunity. What more can you ask from life?

LEE BERMAN: Your recipe (”A Fine Mess of things,” episode 1) is a masterpiece of wit. Do you cook?
BROOKS REEVES: I do cook. Eggs mostly.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE book with you to a desert island, what would it be?
BROOKS REEVES: A very large blank notebook.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE play with you to a desert island, what would it be?
BROOKS REEVES: Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE web site with you to a desert island, what would it be?
BROOKS REEVES: www.joshreads.com

Behind the Scenes with Katherine Wessling

Katherine Wessling

Katherine Wessling

I met Katherine Wessling a couple of years ago at a Moth StorySLAM. I dug her storytelling and her stage presence, and was lucky to get her interested in UpRightDown. She did the first video for issue # 1, a video we had to shoot in three 30-second takes, because the antiquated digital camera I had then could handle no more. Katharine takes part in FOREST MAIDEN at the NYC Fringe Festival, August 15 to 22.

I sat down with with beautiful and talented Katherine Wessling a couple of days ago and talked about life and craft.

LEE BERMAN: In “Why Should I Open the Door” you play Eva, Zelda’s Neighbor. Can you talk about the process of making this video? For example, what’s it like playing an old lady?
KATHERINE WESSLING: As you may recall, I improvised this video with you in a “shoot” in my kitchen. You were using this small camera’s video, so it was all very high-tech! We did four or five takes and I let you choose which one to go with. Since there’s no editing involved, it’s so hard for me to choose, as I’ll like different bits of each video and God forbid I have to say which is “best” overall! I love playing characters and for this one I used as inspiration an older Italian American woman who has lived in my neighborhood her entire life. I love just letting go and seeing what happens. Eva ended up having these hand gestures and this thing with touching her face and her nose that amuse me. I have no idea where those came from. Needless to say this was done without makeup and special effects–save for the copious amounts of baby powder I dumped on my hair which only made me look like me with copious amounts of baby powder dumped on my hair.

LEE BERMAN: How and when did you get into acting/storytelling?
KATHERINE WESSLING: I think human beings are story-based creatures, and I’ve always been particularly story-mad. I was a very bookish child, reading everything I could get my hands on. At an early age I started adapting some of these stories into plays–I’d press my sisters and our friends into staging these elaborate shows. Then I was told I had to “get serious” and spent a number of years in exile from storytelling, always feeling sad and cut off from a part of me. When I was about 30 I decided this was no way to live my life and I started writing again, and taking acting and improv classes. Not long after that, The Moth started up and I did some improv for them and eventually started telling stories at some of their Story Slams.

LEE BERMAN: Name three artists that inspire your work.
KATHERINE WESSLING: God, it’s so hard to choose. I could have such a long list! Well, here are three:
Shira Piven: An amazing director and teacher. I use what I learned from her
every day.
Christopher Guest: Need I say more?
Carol Burnett: This woman brought so much laughter to my childhood….

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE book with you to a desert island, what would it be?
KATHERINE WESSLING: The Bone People, by Keri Hulme.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE movie or play with you to a desert island, what would it be?
KATHERINE WESSLING: The Tempest.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE web site with you to a desert island, what would it be?
KATHERINE WESSLING: Other than uprightdown.com? Salon.com

Behind the Scenes with Maria Layus

Maria Layus making IN SEARCH OF ZELDA

Maria Layus making IN SEARCH OF ZELDA

I met Maria Layus through my buddy Adam Molho, and the minute I told her about UpRightDown, she said I’LL MAKE A CARTOON! Now, you can’t imagine how many people tell me, I’LL DO A VIDEO, I’LL DO A CARTOON, I’LL WRITE A POEM, I’LL MAKE A COMIC STRIP, I’LL DO THIS AND THAT AND THE OTHER, and then — I never hear from them again. So you can imagine how delighted I was when she actually did do a cartoon, and how extra delighted I was that it proved to be a beautiful piece of animation.

I sat down with this talented artist a few days ago and talked to her about life and craft.

LEE BERMAN: What got you interested in animation? in photography? in art?
MARIA LAYUS: I got interested in animation because I have loved cartoons and comics all my life. When I was little all I wanted to do was to look at images, and images that moved were, and still are, just fascinating to me.

Maria Layus with Jon Levin, who did the voice of Louis

Maria Layus with Jon Levin, who did the voice of Louis

LEE BERMAN: Can you talk a little about the process of making IN SEARCH OF ZELDA?
MARIA LAYUS: I started by doing sketches of how I imagined the characters to be, chose the ones I liked best and polished those drawings. They were digitized, colored, and literally cut to pieces in Photoshop so that I could animate them. Then I researched locations and elements online, which I also altered on Photoshop. Once I had all of the elements, I used After Effects to animate them. At the same time I imported the rendered clips into Final Cut Pro to edit them and get the times of the actions right. I went back and forth between Final Cut Pro and After
effects. The voices were recorded on Soundtrack Pro and imported into Final Cut. Once all the clips and voices were in the right place, I exported and rendered a Final Cut movie into Soundtrack Pro and added all of the sounds, ambience, effects, etc.
So on the technical side it was a lot of work, since I was doing it all on my own, and had never synched voices to animation before. I think that was the most frustrating part, to animate the mouths. But it was fun and I learned from it.
On the artistic side I sort of let the story tell itself and things came up in a very organic way. The images I chose for the locations and other specific details made sense to me from the way I looked at the story and the characters. I think that the sketches of the characters sort of defined the style of everything else. And they were the result of how I imagined them when I read the plot.

Maria Layus with Jon Levin, about to record the voice of Louis for IN SEARCH OF ZELDA

Maria Layus with Jon Levin, about to record the voice of Louis for IN SEARCH OF ZELDA

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE book with you to a desert island, what would it be?
MARIA LAYUS: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE movie with you to a desert island, what would it be?
MARIA LAYUS: Blade Runner.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE web site with you to a desert island, what would it be?
MARIA LAYUS: wikihow, so that I ‘ll know how to survive in an island.

Behind the Scenes with Sherri Eldin

Sherri Eldin

Sherri Eldin

Sherri Eldin is a gorgeous and multi-talented performer who has crossed the Hudson River and is out to devour the Big Apple. Watch out, Big Apple! I met Sherri at a Moth storySLAM (see below) and got her performance of episode 1 a few days later, a song called “Love Always, Zelda,” which scared the living lights out of me.

I sat down with this spectacular creature a few days ago and talked to her about life and craft.

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

LEE BERMAN: Your song “Love Always, Zelda” has been quite a success. How’d you come up with the idea to make a song of episode 1?
SHERRI ELDIN: First of all, I am SHOCKED at how successful it’s been. Who are these people that are listening to my music? I want to meet them! Shoot me an email! I started going to the Moth, which is the king of all storytelling shows, a few months back, and they tell you to get there early to ensure a spot inside. I was, of course, first in line, and this guy came up to me and some fellow storytellers I was talking to and handed us his card. It was Lee Berman, the editor of UpRightDown, and I was SO excited to meet him because I had heard of the site before and wanted to submit, but there hadn’t been any new plots in quite a while. I knew everyone else would be making simple storytelling videos, and I wanted to do something different. Singing and songwriting is one of my primary artistic pursuits, but I thought it would be an obvious choice and that a lot of people would be doing it. Lee’s eyes got really big when I told him my idea and he said that actually no one had ever done it. I think Lee brought me luck that night. My name ended up getting pulled from the hat and I made my Moth debut.

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

LEE BERMAN: Well, this Lee Berman sounds like an amazing guy. Now, can you talk a little about the process of making the song (writing, composing, performing, recording…)?
SHERRI ELDIN: Oh boy, aren’t artists supposed to keep that a secret? Eh, whatever. I woke up the next day and said, “Okay, I need to write this song.” I clearly remember the image in my head of exactly where I was when I began composing. I went into the bathroom in my apartment to get something and as I was walking out the verse melody came to me. There’s really no explanation sometimes to how stuff “comes to you.” The next thing to hit me was closing out each stanza with “and now I’m gone,” and the idea of having that repeat. I knew it would be powerful and haunting. Much of the rest is kind of a blur. That happens sometimes in any artistic creation, I think. But it was quite magical, how the storyline and the amount of syllables in each line of the melody I came up with just synched. It made writing the lyrics really easy. Over the next few days I recorded it on my computer, piece by piece (guitar, vocals, percussion), playing around with different sound effects, panning, and instruments to find what would sound most unique and give listeners a one-of-a-kind experience. That’s what listening to a song should be, an experience, a journey. If I may say so, if you listen to the song on headphones, the experience is enhanced much more. So do it.

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

LEE BERMAN: Name three artists that inspire your work.
SHERRI ELDIN: Portishead, My Brightest Diamond, Alanis Morissette. And Dido.

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE book with you to a desert island, what would it be?
SHERRI ELDIN: Something I’ve never read before. I have never read the same book twice. Too boring.

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE movie with you to a desert island, what would it be?
SHERRI ELDIN: La Meglio Gioventu. It was a six-part mini-series in Italy, so it’s six hours total, but it’s amaaaazing.

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE web site with you to a desert island, what would it be?
SHERRI ELDIN: Slacker.com. It’s like Pandora, where you type in songs or artists and it generates similar ones, only with more variety than Pandora. That’s how I find out about new songs and artists, and actually some of my favorites have come from there.

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

Sherri Eldin at the Moth

Behind the Scenes with Peter Aguero

Peter Aguero is a champion storyteller and leader of The BTK Band, which stands for Improvised Storytelling Mayhem Rock & Roll, and which are grabbing UpRightDown by the balls with their incredible performances: RUNNING (episode 1), OH ZELDAH! (episode 2), and AND THEN SHE SCREEMED (episode 3), which will be posted on May 13. They vow to perform all 26 episodes.

I sat down with this fine gentleman a few days ago and talked to him about life and craft.

LEE BERMAN: Your performance, especially OH ZELDAH!, totally blew me (and others) away. Where the hell did you learn to freestyle?

PETER AGUERO: My first regular job as a professional performer was 6 years in the national touring company of Chicago City Limits. It’s the longest-running improvised show in New York. It’s mostly short-form improv, with longer musical pieces. In order to be a touring member of the company, I had to start swinging my balls around and singing. I did hundreds of shows, from basements of synagogues to 1,200 seat theaters. 37 states in 6 years (and Montreal–which sucked). It was an amazing experience. I was lucky to have patient teachers and generous cast mates. I believe that much of improv is following your instincts and trusting that everybody else onstage will back you up. You learn to shed any and all fear.

LEE BERMAN: How did The BTK Band come into being?

PETER AGUERO: I was just starting my intense addiction to The Moth in the fall of 2007 and I couldn’t stop thinking about storytelling. One day, I was listening to “Nighthawks at the Diner” by Tom Waits and went into a trance during “Big Joe and the Phantom 309.” It’s basically Tom Waits telling the “Large Marge” urban legend over music. I’d never been in a band and can not play any instruments. I sent an email to all the improvisers that I know that are musicians. Rory Scholl, Sharon Fogarty, and a guy named Jon Provan showed up at Sharon’s place one night. I played them “Big Joe…” Along with some other stuff (”Harpua” by Phish, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Johnny Cash). We started fucking around. Our first song was called “Pissing in the Snow.” I opened a book of dirty Ozark folk tales at random and read the story. We’d make up a chorus. The more that we played together, the tighter the music became. We did our first show in August of 2008.

LEE BERMAN: Name three artists that inspire your work.

PETER AGUERO: Tom Waits, Richard Pryor, Jim Beam.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE book with you to a desert island, what would it be?

PETER AGUERO: “How to Survive on a Desert Island” by whomever wrote such a thing.

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE movie with you to a desert island, what would it be?

PETER AGUERO: “The Big Lebowski”

LEE BERMAN: If you had to take ONE web site with you to a desert island, what would it be?

PETER AGUERO: literotica.com — from the neck up, I’m a preacher; from the waist down, I’m nothing but a man.

Watch Brad Lawrence telling a story at Drunk Friendly Art, with Peter Aguero riffing:

Part 1

Part 2

images of OuLiPo in New York

Donald Breckenridge, Hervé Le Tellier, and Jacques Roubaud at Pierogi Art Gallery: OuLiPo in New York

Donald Breckenridge, Hervé Le Tellier, and Jacques Roubaud at Pierogi Art Gallery: OuLiPo in New York

JACQUES ROUBAUD gave an Oulipian masterclass at Princeton University on April 7. I arrived some twenty minutes early, and he was already there, writing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 52 on the board. When he saw me he dropped the chalk, shook my hand, and said, “I am Jacques Roubaud.” I said I knew; I had read The Great Fire of London. He seemed surprised. He said his arm hurt from writing on the board, now in his old age. He excused himself: his English was getting worse and worse. I said, on the contrary, his English was impeccable. “In fact,” I added, “you sound exactly like Vladimir Nabokov. Have you ever heard him speak? You have the same accent and the same voice.” He shook his fist and, laughing, cried, “Quel compliment!”

Jacques Roubaud reading from THE LOOP at Idlewood Bookstore: OuLiPo in New York

Jacques Roubaud reading from THE LOOP at Idlewood Bookstore: OuLiPo in New York

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Click to watch Jacques Roubaud reading “This Time” at Pierogi Art Gallery, Brooklyn

Click to watch the original version, in French
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MARCEL BENABOU made Ian Monk read Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books. The latter grumbled, but consented, and the former, after the reading, thanked the latter profusely: “Ian, tu es sublime. Je l’aurais massacré.”

Marcel Bénabout at Pierogi Art Gallery, Brooklyn: OuLiPo in New York

Marcel Bénabout at Pierogi Art Gallery, Brooklyn: OuLiPo in New York

Marcel Bénabou between readings: OuLiPo in New York

Marcel Bénabou between readings: OuLiPo in New York

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HERVE LE TELLIER had no idea who I was, when I went up to him before the reading at the New School and shook his hand. I said, “Don’t you remember? You came to my party in the 14th arrondissement a few years ago. Also, I translated a text of yours.” (A text which he read that very evening.) He said, “Ah. Right. I didn’t recognize you in that suit.” We were then joined by Ian Monk, whom my friend Hervé introduced as Ayn Monk. Though sternly corrected, he continued to call him Ayn throughout the evening.

Hervé Le Tellier reading at Pierogi Art Gallery, Brooklyn: OuLiPo in New York

Hervé Le Tellier reading at Pierogi Art Gallery, Brooklyn: OuLiPo in New York

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Click to watch Hervé Le Tellier reading Jacques Jouet’s “Landscape Monostiches” very fast

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IAN MONK, or, as some like to call him, Ayn Monk, read a masterful univocalism on i (”Hi! I’m Iris. I’m slim, with big tits, trim thighs slid in this tight mini-skirt. It’s riding high. This girl’s IT, dimwit!…”), which put to shame our own efforts, published in issue # 1: a, e, i, o, u.

Ian Monk reading at Pierogi Art Gallery, Brooklyn: OuLiPo in New York

Ian Monk reading at Pierogi Art Gallery, Brooklyn: OuLiPo in New York

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Click to watch Ian Monk reading the first of the “Twin Towers”

Click to watch Ian Monk reading the second of the “Twin Towers”

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ANNE F. GARRETA and her friends were the first to show up to UpRightDown’s launch party at Madame X. I went up to them and offered to buy everyone drinks. They said, “Why? Who are you?” I said drinks were on the house, courtesy of UpRightDown. Our bar tab budget, $400, ran dry within an hour.

Anne F. Garréta reading at Pierogi Art Gallery, Brooklyn: OuLiPo in New York

Anne F. Garréta reading at Pierogi Art Gallery, Brooklyn: OuLiPo in New York

Anne F Garréta and Hervé Le Tellier at the New School: OuLiPo in New York

Anne F Garréta and Hervé Le Tellier at the New School: OuLiPo in New York

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DANIEL LEVIN BECKER was Paul Fournel’s research assistant, or slave, when I first met him, two years ago in Paris. Two months ago he was inducted into the Oulipo.

Daniel Levin Becker at the New School: OuLiPo in New York

Daniel Levin Becker at the New School: OuLiPo in New York

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And here are some of the people who made OuLiPo in New York happen:

Jean-Jacques Poucel of Yale University, chief organizer of OuLiPo in New York with graphic novelist Matt Madden

Jean-Jacques Poucel of Yale University, chief organizer of OuLiPo in New York, with graphic novelist Matt Madden

Ravi Shankar, editor of Drunken Boat

Ravi Shankar, editor of Drunken Boat

Mathilde Billaud of the French Embassy Cultural Services

Mathilde Billaud of the French Embassy Cultural Services