Press Release following the ‘Trans-Sib’ book launch.
On Monday evening, June 6th, at about 7.30, after months of stop-start journeying, always trailing a good head of steam but sometimes impeded by obstacles on the line, the Trans-Siberian finally arrived! Not in war-torn Manchuria, but at the London Review Bookshop in Bury Place, Bloomsbury.
But first, the story behind the journey. Having in 2014 submitted the final draft and the completed illustrations, translator Dick Jones’ and artist Natalie d’Arbeloff’s version of Blaise Cendrars’ epic poem ‘Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France’ – the ‘Trans-Sib’ – went to publication with Nicolas and Frances McDowall’s Old Stile Press. Known to collectors, libraries and universities worldwide as the premier specialists in hand-crafted limited edition books, Nicolas and Frances integrated text and images into a beautifully produced, landscape-formatted run of 150 volumes, details of which can be found on the Old Stile Press website. The book has been available for several months now and we’re very pleased with initial sales.
When planning the book’s launch, Dick and Natalie decided to offer something a little more exciting than the conventional format of a brief reading from the text prior to the consumption by the guests of multiple bottles of wine and assorted arty canapés. This version of the ‘Trans-Sib’ being a collaboration between writer and artist with text and images fully integrated, it was clear from the start that any presentation of the contents of the book must accommodate both equally.
So Natalie created a video version of the illustrations – a DVD slide show with each image sequenced in a series of carefully timed slow, graceful dissolves and cross-fades designed to be projected against a screen in coordination with Dick’s live reading of the text. It was also decided to incorporate a live musical soundtrack to provide further colour and atmosphere to what was now emerging as a performance piece.
Managing the coordination between pre-set image sequencing and live reading was the main challenge. And with inevitable small variations in the pacing of different readings constant adjustment was necessary. The software that Natalie selected as most suitable for high quality formatting required that if a single timing adjustment had to be made in a particular section of the display then the entire sequencing either side had to be recalibrated too. So in the weeks running up to the presentation Natalie and Dick were in constant communication, exchanging audio and video clips via the internet and rehearsing and recording both separately and together as they edged closer towards an optimum balance between the fixed running of the DVD and the live reading.
The third element in the presentation was the music. Guitarist Doug MacGowan, an old friend and musical collaborator of Dick’s, composed an accompanying score for acoustic guitar to run alongside the image projection and reading, reflecting the constantly evolving visual and oral narrative. Coordinating the musical accompaniment was somewhat less of a challenge than was met in the matching of slideshow and reading. Doug, a skilled improviser, took his cues from the pacing of the voice, adjusting bar lengths and slowing down or accelerating minutely as necessary.
The London Review Bookshop is one of the great bookshops, airy and up to date, but also providing a powerful sense that, for all the digital advances that have been made in communications media, the book remains the prime repository of all things cognitive, creative and cultural! At street level it’s commodious – packed with books on shelves and tables, but still providing plenty of room to move around. The staircase down to the basement leads on to a book-lined mezzanine level, which has a flight of central steps opening onto a square floor area, also lined with bookshelves. Chairs were arranged within these two areas facing a large screen lowered in front of the shelves at the far end from the mezzanine entrance way. Dick was positioned to the right of the screen and Natalie and Doug sat to the left.
Upstairs, arty canapés weren’t on offer, but the wine was decent enough and the guests arrived, met and mingled upstairs, old friends being greeted and new friends being made. Then, downstairs, the audience in place, the presentation began with the dousing of the lights and the commencement of a brief projected sequence of pictures of Blaise Cendrars, showing his evolution from callow youth (the adolescent protagonist of the ‘Trans-Sib’, maybe) to the gallant one-armed French Foreign Legionnaire of the First World War through to the lined and Gauloise-smoking visage of his old age. With the fading onto the screen of the first image from the ‘Trans-Sib’ and the shifting of the music from introductory overture to thematic accompaniment, the depiction of the great Trans-Siberian odyssey began.
All successful performance depends upon a synthesis of hard graft and providence and in the event both ensured a near-seamless coordination of reading, images and music. Feedback after the presentation was gratifyingly positive with such eminently quotable quotes as “…an exceptionally fine integration of text, imagery, music and speaking voice…”, “…an experience that I shall remember for a long time”, “…such an inspirational evening”, and “…a truly captivating and immersive experience”.
And so the ‘Trans-Sib’ – so long in the preparation and then several months post publication – was officially launched. There are plans in discussion for further performances of the video/audio presentation so, hopefully, at some point in the not too distant future the Trans-Siberian Express with Blaise Cendrars and Little Jeanne from France on board may be pulling into a station near you…
These music clips are theme samples emailed to me prior live rehearsal by composer/guitarist Doug MacGowan.
TRANS-SIBERIAN THEME (subsequently altered)
JEANNE’S THEME 1.
JEANNE’S THEME 2.