Dave Buchen unfurls a roll of newsprint containing the words “Le Mort Joyeux” (“The Happy Dead”), “L’Albatross” (“the Albatross”), the names of poems by 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire. For each poem, Buchen has drawn illustrations suggested by the images in the poem, as Cliff Bellamy reports in this article for the Herald Sun.
On a recent afternoon, Buchen also is preparing to build a stage set on which he will mount several scrolls that he will crank during a performance of the poems. Buchen will operate these “crankies” as local musiciancantastorias New Town Drunks, Curtis Eller, Jkutchma and Dexter Romweber sing original songs they have written to Baudelaire’s poetry.
This collaboration will be the fifth installment of “Baudelaire in a Box,” which Buchen will perform with the musicians today at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro and Saturday at The Pinhook in Durham. Other performances have occurred in Chicago; Madison, Wis.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and New York City.
The goal of “Baudelaire in a Box” is to perform all 126 poems in Baudelaire’s cycle of poems “Les Fleurs du Mal” (“Flowers of Evil”) by 2017, which will be the 150th anniversary of the death of Baudelaire (1821-1867). All the musicians who have performed and written songs for the project will meet in Chicago in 2017 to perform all the poems in a festival.
Buchen’s scrolls are modern versions of cantastoria, an Italian word that means “picture story recitation.” The art form began in 6th century India before traveling to Asia and later Europe.
The home base for this project is Theater Oobleck of Chicago, of which Buchen is a founding member. He first performed cantastoria when he moved to Puerto Rico, and found that he did not feel confident enough in his language skills to write a play in Spanish. To get around the language barrier, he began performing cantastoria, and did an adaptation of Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History.”
He later discovered the poetry of Baudelaire. “I stumbled upon him. I was in Chicago in the public library and decided to check him out,” Buchen said. As he read the poem, he said he was struck by Baudelaire’s imagery, and its musical quality. One particular poem suggested waltz rhythm, he said.
Buchen performed some of Baudelaire’s wine poems from the cycle in Puerto Rico, where he met Roberto Cofresi, guitarist in New Town Drunks, who asked Buchen if he wanted to perform the poems in the Triangle. From there, Cofresi began organizing the shows, and Buchen had high praise for his organizational skills. “He organized this great show with four different bands,” Buchen said.
New Town Drunks will perform six poems, and the other artists will perform two poems each. A printed program will include the poems to allow the audience to follow along. This set of concerts represents the first time Buchen has worked with bands. “This is the first rock ‘n’ roll show. Up until now it has been a guy with a guitar,” he said. The musicians were given complete freedom to interpret the poems. “I just told the musicians, whatever moves you, to take the poem you want and set it to music,” he said.
In addition to his poetry, Baudelaire was an essayist and art critic who also translated Edgar Allan Poe’s works into French. Baudelaire’s prose-poetry style influenced poets Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stephane Mallarmé.
Buchen got to hear New Town Drunks’ arrangements earlier this week during a concert at The Cave in Chapel Hill, and was excited by their inclusion of accordion and trombone. The ArtsCenter show will be a first run through the show, the first meeting of the bands and Buchen’s cantastoria. “I cede control to them,” Buchen said of the musicians. “It’s their vision. The illustration is all in my little world. The music is in their world, and they all meet.”
Go and Do
WHAT: Baudelaire in a Box, with Dave Buchen collaborating with New Town Drunks, Curtis Eller, Jkutchma, and Dexter Romweber
WHEN and WHERE: May 25, 8:30 p.m., The ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro; and May 26, 9 p.m., The Pinhook, 117 W. Main St., Durham
ADMISSION: Tickets are $12 to ArtsCenter show, $10 to Pinhook. For tickets, visit http://www.artscenterlive.org or thepinhook.com.
ALSO: The program will be presented Sunday at The Pour House, 224 S. Blount St., Raleigh. For information, call 919-821-1120.
For the original report go to http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/18719621/article-%E2%80%98Baudelaire-in-a-Box%E2%80%99