Sufjan Invites You to Merge Onto The BQE

A multimedia homage to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that was commissioned for the 2007 Next Wave Festival.
Sufjan Stevens

It feels like it’s been awhile since we last heard from everyone’s favorite wispy-voiced, geographically obsessed, orchestrally inclined indie wunderkind. But that’s all changing in the next few months.

In October, Sufjan Stevens will release — or present, depending on how you look at it — Run Rabbit Run, a reinterpretation by the Osso string quartet of his 2001 album Enjoy Your Rabbit.

Later that same month, he’ll release The BQE, a multimedia homage to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway originally commissioned for the 2007 Next Wave Festival.

From Asthmatic Kitty’s website:

First and foremost, The BQE is a self-made home-movie documentation, exhibiting how all the architectural colors of Brooklyn and Queens are fabulously intersected by this ramshackle artery of highway traffic. Shot renegade style on do-it-yourself film cameras, the animated footage of grid-lock crisscrossing the brick and mortar of Brooklyn flickers and cascades Koyaanisqatsi-style on three simultaneous screens. The 16mm cinematography (heroically shot by Reuben Kleiner on a 1960s Bolex) utilizes time-lapse photography, in-camera editing, slow motion, and post-production mirror effects to transform urban blight into a splendor of graphic compositions.

The BQE is also accompanied by an idiosyncratic musical soundtrack (composed by Stevens for band and chamber orchestra), evoking a romanticized musical choreography of perpetual motion vs. gridlock. Borrowing variously from Gershwin, Terry Riley, Charles Ives, and Autechre (to name a few), the music showcases skittish woodwinds wrestling out impressionist articulation (in 7/8) and imperial brass anthems evoking various incarnations of the music of the automobile.

The BQE further extends its mythology by anthropomorphizing the expressway and its theoretical conceits into a 40-page comic book, in which three extra-terrestrial superhero sisters (Botanica, Quantus, and Electress) use hula-hoops to combat the “the Messiah of Civic Projects,” Captain Moses, and his totalitarian social architecture. The comic book, written by Stevens and gorgeously drawn, colored, and inked by longtime friend and collaborator Stephen Halker, 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.

After the festival, Sufjan and his cohorts settled in to make a recording of the soundtrack, but the man got a little tired of the project and shelved it. But now, the release is seeing the light of day, and in usual Sufjan fashion, it’s going to be more than just your typical CD.

More details can be found here and here, but essentially, your hard-earned dollars will get you a double-disc release that includes the original film on DVD, the film soundtrack on CD, a 40-page booklet with liner notes and photos, and a stereoscopic image reel (for those of you who still have your View-Masters from childhood).

Vinyl afficiandoes will get their own edition that includes a double gatefold on 180-gram vinyl, a 32-page booklet of liner notes and photos, and a black-and-white version of Hooper Heroes, the aforementioned comic book.

Track Listing

  1. Prelude on the Esplanade (2:56)
  2. Introductory Fanfare for the Hooper Heroes (1:07)
  3. Movement I — In the Countenance of Kings (5:19)
  4. Movement II — Sleeping Invader (4:34)
  5. Interlude I — Dream Sequence in Subi Circumnavigation (3:33)
  6. Movement III — Linear Tableau with Intersecting Surprise (4:09)
  7. Movement IV — Traffic Shock (3:24)
  8. Movement V — Self-Organizing Emergent Patterns (3:45)
  9. Interlude II — Subi Power Waltz (0:28)
  10. Interlude III — Invisible Accidents (0:54)
  11. Movement VI — Isorhythmic Night Dance with Interchanges (3:17)
  12. Movement VII (Finale) — The Emperor of Centrifuge (3:51)
  13. Postlude — Critical Mass (2:59)

The BQE will be released October 20, 2009 on Asthmatic Kitty Records. To further pique your curiosity, here’s a trailer for the project.