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The millenial generation's Koyaanisqatsi: Sufjan Stevens' The BQE

sufjan_stevensAlthough I studied classical music in college and was a regular patron of the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra growing up, I have little doubt that reviewing a new classical album would never have happened if it didn’t have Sufjan Stevens name attached to it.

The BQE is a film and musical suite — composed by Sufjan Stevens — exploring New York City’s Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The performance featured 36 performers including a band, a wind and brass ensemble, string players, a horn section, projected film footage of the expressway and five hula hoopers.

I received an advance review copy of the album and listened through a couple times.

On the first track, “Prelude on the Esplanade”, what first hit me is how much Sufjan loves his trilling flute flourishes. They are readily found in almost all of his albums, and this piece is instantly distinguishable as Sufjan by that alone.

Further into the album, “Interlude I—Dream Sequence in Subi Circumnavigation” devolves into a haunting mess reminscent of Messiaen’s TurangalîlaSymphonie minus the ondes martenot. An Ummagumma-era, Floydian horn farefare rescues the listener from the abyss just in time. Later, “Movement IV – Traffic Shock” adds electronic drums and effects, a shock indeed.

Overall, the album is a vivacious romp through fantastical fields of mirth — an adventure for the spirit, although perhaps a challenge for the mind when minus the video footage.

I haven’t seen the entire film, but judging by the trailer, The BQE is the millenial generation’s Koyaanisqatsi.

Don’t want to wait for the film? I’m told the album syncs perfectly with the original Fantasia feature film. Just start the music when the red smoke turns to blue clouds, and you see the first sparkle of animation. When Mickey Mouse comes in and starts conducting ocean waves it syncs up eerily well. At one point you see Mickey getting drug around in the water by the walking broom, at the same time you hear splashing crescendo movements by the orchestra. Every splash Mickey makes matches perfectly to the music. Actually, I just made that up. Try it out and let me know.

The BQE comes out October 20 on Asthmatic Kitty Records with a CD soundtrack, DVD of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway film footage, a 40-page booklet and an accompanying stereoscopic 3-D Viewmaster reel.

Sufjan plays Minneapolis’ 400 Bar on September 27, although no tickets are currently available.

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