The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature - Imagine that you’ve just read the most amazing book you’ve ever encountered

The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, Ben Segal, Erinrose Mager, eds. Cow Heavy Books, 2011.

„This book is a catalog of textual desire, of wished-for and ideal books as described by a diverse collection of writers, critics, and text-makers. The maligned blurb form herein becomes, time and again, the entryway into unreadable books and the anticipation that comes before opening them.
"A tour de force of dust-jacket discourse! A torrid farce of rocking back-cover back-patting! . . . Or so I imagine, not yet having ventured into this flurry of blurbs for non-existent masterpieces, a fierce tear through conceptual imagination, an idea vibrating with enviable potential energy." -Troy Patterson

„Consider this: at various points during the last 150 years, painting has been said to be on its deathbed. The nineteenth century emergence of photography required that painting justify itself. Other forms, like collage, sculpture, video, and installation art cut into painting’s share of the visual arts marketplace. Yet painting persists, much re-defined and evolved since its crisis began.
Consider this: the book—and, by extension, writing—is now said to be on its deathbed.
I thought of these things last night when reading The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature. The anthology, edited by Ben Segal and Erinrose Mager, consists of blurbs, dusk jacket copy, and descriptions for unwritten and, perhaps, unwritable books. In their call for submissions, the editors made clear that they both wanted to writers “to imagine that they’ve just read the most amazing book they’ve ever encountered” and, in the broadest sense, “conceptualize forms and potential works: not necessarily to bring them into being.”
Sixty-two authors provided entries for this Catalog, most in fundamentally unique ways. Some satirized the hyperbolic language of the blurb form (Blake Butler: “this book lit down upon my house and ate my children and my mind”). Others used the occasion for socio-political barbs: (Vanessa Place: “Capital—the most important epic poem of the twentieth century”).
Where the Catalog succeeds most, in my opinion, is in the entries where the book form itself is brought into question. Rather than be just a bound collection of text printed on paper, Catalog writers point to other possibilities.
Michael Martone, writing about Nabokov’s lost book about butterfly collecting in the “central Indiana hardwood swamps,” envisions the book as a kind of Joseph Cornell wonder cabinet, complete with “… scale reproductions of the wing scales taken from the Karner Blue… a coupon redeemable for a podcast recording of the Luna moth calls....”
Assemblage also features in the book that Lance Olsen imagines, Paradise Blind, which is “contained in a text packed with typed over passages, torn postcards, poems that can be deciphered only when held up to a mirror, pages ornamented with trompe-lœil paperclips and coffee stains and buzzing houseflies…”
Craig Dworkin proposes The Cube: “Set in a grid, the book’s words can be read conventionally, across the page, as well as down each column… But they can also be read as stacked strata…By opening up the z-axis to reading in this way, The Cube recognizes the book as a three-dimensional sculptural space.”
Shelley Jackson’s The Slow Book is hammered out and “encoded into a series of punctures on a strip of copper… at a rate of one word per century (local time).”
Ben Mirov’s Inadequate Pillow is “seems to be about nothing in particular.” Yes, it contains “orthographic symbols,” but its primary function is as a physical object: “It might be used as a pedestal for a vial of dust. In certain cases, the book may be used for sexual intercourse…
The book’s physicality is further explored in Sean Higgins’s The Paper Archivist entry, while, most tantalizingly, Adam Robinson writes that he “opened the third drawer of Barbara D’Albi’s wooden novel.”
Can all the modifications in book technology suggested by these many writers be implemented given present book industry operations? Perhaps not. Yet like the Oulipo movement that inspired this collection, the works show that even this late in the game, we still have not fully explored what “book” might mean.“ – Nick Kocz

I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues. —Jorge Luis Borges, The Library of Babel
Stephen King once quoted an unnamed “fairly cynical writer acquaintance” who had a strict rule when it came to writing blurbs: “Never blurb a book you’ve read and never read a book you’ve blurbed.” Cynicism aside, this notion highlights the interchangeable aspect of most book blurbs. There are the clichés (“unputdownable”) but it’s more fun to look for over-the-top praise and imagine the blurber never read the book in question.
Thomas Pynchon’s trippingly hyperbolic blurb for Rudolph Wurlitzer’s 1970 novel, Nog comes to mind:
Wow, this is some book, I mean it’s more than a beautiful and heavy trip, it’s also very important in an evolutionary way, showing us directions we could be moving in—hopefully another sign that the Novel of Bullshit is dead and some kind of re-enlightenment is beginning to arrive, to take hold.”
I don’t really need to read Nog. I’m happy enough to imagine the book Pynchon describes. Soon enough, a Derek Smalls-esque voice pipes up: “Can I raise a practical question at this point?” What if the book being blurbed doesn’t exist?
Literature abounds with collections of imaginary books. In the story “The Library of Babel”, Jorge Louis Borges describes an infinite library, containing every possible variation of a 410-page book. Italo Calvino’s 1979 novel If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller describes a bookstore with stacks that “extend for acres and acres” which contain “the Books You Needn’t Read”, “the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered”, and “the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified”, among others.
Neil Gaiman’s classic comic book series The Sandman introduces the memorable Lucien, the librarian of the strange realm known as “The Dreaming”, In August 1993’s Vertigo Jam #1, Lucien tells us, “The library of dreams is the largest library there never was. I’m sure all your books are here….Here’s one. It’s called ‘The Bestselling Romantic Spy Thriller I used to think about on the bus that would sell a billion copies and mean I’d never have to work again.’”
In Sandman’s issue #57 (Feb. 1994), he describes his library as containing: “Every book that’s ever been dreamed. Every book that’s ever been imagined. Every book that’s ever been lost.”
The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature offers a selection of blurbs for books that could line a shelf or two in Lucien’s or Borges’s libraries. It’s publisher, Cow Heavy Books, specializes in “limited-edition, perfect-bound minibooks” with limited print runs, and they describe this wonderful collection as “a catalog of textual desire, of wished-for and ideal books as described by a diverse collection of writers, critics, and text-makers. The maligned blurb form herein becomes, time and again, the entryway into unreadable books and the anticipation that comes before opening them.”
Edited by Ben Segal and Erinrose Mager, over 60 writers contribute blurbs, and the collection begins immediately, without an introduction or table of contents. The first entry, “All these violent children”, by J.A. Tyler could also apply to the entire The Official Catalog: “The way this book manipulates the world, tears it up into tiny pieces and then re-structures it, recreates it, makes of it a new state of being, this is something to behold.”
Most of the blurbs take no more than a page, and this gives the collection the feel of a book of prose poems. The reference to “potential literature” connects this book directly to the Oulipo writers such as Raymond Queneau and George Perec, and their constrained writing technique. Like the best examples from the Oulipians, The Official Catalog uses its self-imposed rules to create something intellectually and aesthetically exciting and limitless.
There are blurbs for imaginary books by famous authors, such as Michael Martone’s entry for Vladimir Nabokov’s “The Blues of the Limberlost” (“part collection of prose poetry, part entomological treatise”). There are blurbs for imaginary books whose authors are unattributed, such as Peter Markus’s entry for “The Book of Sounds” (“A book meant to be read out loud.”).
Some entries take the form of short stories about books, such as Matt Bell’s piece about “The Big Book of Infinitely Possible Timetables,” which tells a Calvino-like story about the “reader”:
Following the Big Book’s charts, he finds another almost similar conveyance in his train’s place, one that makes him late or early to arrive at some barely other destination, one that he did not know to desire and is at first mostly familiar. Here is some new home where his wife’s face is only slightly paler, only barely broader, where his children speak more or less likably than before, and where his roast beef tastes not quite exactly unlike any other roast beef he has ever tasted.”
Bell’s curious and circular style also brings to mind Jorge Luis Borges’s tale of an infinite book, “The Book of Sand”, as well as Umberto Eco’s 2009 study The Infinity of Lists, which differentiates between two methods of representing infinity. One depicts it in a closed form, “a potential infinity”.
“There is, however, another mode of artistic representation, one where we do not know the boundaries of what we wish to portray, where we do not know how many things we are talking about and presume their number to be, if not infinite, then at least astronomically large,” Eco writes. Into that mode falls the The Official Catalog. This is not to say that the book is highfalutin and academic. Some pieces work as twitter-length literary jokes, such as Teresa Carmody’s “Literal: A novel,” for which the entire blurb is, “Surprisingly true to life!”
Two standouts are the contributions from well-known writers Aimee Bender and Shelley Jackson. Jackson expands the concept of a blurb into an epic fantasy comparable to Pynchon’s write-up for Nog:
The Slow Book, written by an anonymous author at the dawn of literacy, on a minor planet (otherwise notable only as the source of that exceptionally hardy, not very tasty grain called ‘shef’ sowed on hostile planets as an early step to colonization), and encoded into a series of punctures on a strip of copper coiled inside a clever device, something between a player piano and an old-fashioned film projector, is being released into print, as was the author’s intention, at a rate of one word per century (local time).
Where Jackson condenses all of time and space into a blurb, Bender turns the blurb inside-out. Her piece (for a book whose title we never discover), describes a surreal feeling that could also apply to the entire The Official Catalog.
“When I read, I generally feel transported, but when I read this book, I did actually seem to be transported,” she writes. “When I finished it, I looked up and some of the furniture in my living room had been rearranged.” – Oliver Ho

„Potential is a dreamer’s word, an ideal state that may never be. Perhaps that’s what makes it a writer’s word. One searches for a potential mate, discerns potential careers and paths–the word implies an active state of searching and becoming. However, there’s also the disappointment of not meeting one’s potential, as in dating, there’s the oft-heard dismissal, “(s)he had such potential.” In literature, the word is usually associated with Oulipo (ouvroir de litterature potentielle, or “workshop of potential literature”) where constraints (often mathematical) were (and are) used to create new exceptions, deviations, derivations, or rather, new forms of literature.
Potential has such possibility when untouched by the heavy hands of reality. In attempt to reify the energy of such fleeting states, Ben Segal and Erinrose Mager compiled The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, “a catalog of textual desire, of wished-for and ideal books,” that were dreamt of and desired by sixty-two writers, critics, and text makers. The homage to Oulipo is evident from the title, but also its aesthetic, with a spare white cover that resembles a French paperback, and its execution, which prizes the potential form. The entries are supposed book blurbs, but more frequently resemble narrative distillations from book jackets (only better), or stories unto themselves. If anything, this enhances the book but also reveals the liberties taken. In this catalog, the only constraint is the author’s imagination. The ideas are set out like seeds germinating on a windowsill before the final winter’s frost. They are unruly, ambitious, ready to unfurl.
The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature is a book of books, and in some cases a catalog of catalogs, such as Matt Bell’s Big Book of Infinitely Impossible Timetables or Peter Markus’s Book of Sounds. Some titles are very literal (and amusing) like Teresa Carmody’s Literal: A Novel, which she describes as “Surprisingly true to life!” while others are intentionally misleading–How to Paint (imagined by Derrick Pell) was written by a lewd photographer who provides no such instruction.
Vanessa Place (also one of the contributors/wishers) commented during the Belladonna prose event at AWP that as an author she acts as a mirror for the reader, and that a reader’s response to a book only reveals the reader to her- or himself to a greater degree. In this sense, there are books that illuminate inner lives, that heal, that undo past harm, and offer guidance–including one for Diane Williams (suggested by Diane Williams), What Diane Williams Did and What She’ll Probably Do, With Useful Suggestions for Her. There are even more that injure. Bhanu Kapil warns, “Don’t read this book. Is it a bruise?” Robert Lopez imagines poems that assault like slipping on ice and cracking your skull.
It’s interesting to note the ways the wished-for books converge into categories. Many of the books transport the reader, but Aimee Bender’s literally changes her perspective, by rearranging her living room. There are adventure tales, stories packed with stock characters, including zombies, vampires, super models, cannibals, and race car drivers. Some books transform into poultices and contain elixirs, others are objets d’art and masterpieces of design, like Adam Robinson’s book within a wooden sculpture.
Add to the list political, fantasy, self-help, and practical books too, if you’re wondering which drugs to pair with certain video games. Surprisingly, there is no comedy, as a category. One author is trapped within the book and another is undone by the text, consumed. And, as a reader would expect from a catalog of potential literature, there are nods to the Oulipians. Laird Hunt conjures a tale about the French boxing league formed by Georges Perec after he fakes his death, while Craig Dworkin imagines Oulipian-like constraints for Cube, which can can be read both horizontally and vertically, as well as in strata, by way of lexical core sampling.
More than a few ideas, now born, beg to become. Shelley Jackson’s Slow Book is a story unto itself. Far more complex than a Kindle, The Slow Book is a book of the future, stored on a strip of coiled copper, that reveals one word per century, the word that defines the age. Lance Olsen imagines a manuscript that reads like David Lynch’s Lost Highway, it contains a poem that ignites with breath and others that dissolve upon exposure to light (and so much more). Artist and author Tom Phillips was so inspired by his idea he’s decided to make his book. I wouldn’t be surprised if others do too.
The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature is a trove of ideas, ready for looting by writers, as well as a garden of delights for the reader. Jac Jemc describes a longed-for childhood fairy tale: “At the beginning, the author ties the finest narrative threads around your belly, and pulls you gently, but certainly, to the end.” Which is something so many of us have longed for in a book. If only wishing and imagination were readily transformed into the desired object, many of these books would already exist. But, as this book shows, there’s magic in the dream.“ – Anne K. Yoder

„The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, edited by Ben Segal and Erinrose Mager, is more than just a collection of short blurbs describing would-be books; it is a droll and scalding glimpse into the witches cauldron of the postmodern literary imagination.
No, really.
The contributors to this collection, from well-known writers like Aimee Bender and Matt Bell to newer voices like Mallory Rice and Sean Higgins, do more than satirize the tired language of book reviews, dust jackets, and literary theory–they take our preconceived ideas about what is literature and turn them upside down and inside out. Posited here are books by authors both real (Vladimir Nabokov, Georges Perec) and imaginary; books by the dead, and yes, the undead; books in the form of cubes, wooden drawers, sounds; books that can only be deciphered when held up to a mirror.
In some cases the prose is as irritatingly self-conscious and convoluted as its object of ridicule, but more often the language, although hyperbolic, is to be savored. For example, this from Lance Olsen:
“Pages ornamented with trompe-l’oeil, paperclips and coffee stains and buzzing houseflies, some busy with illegible runes that dissolve when exposed to light, three that smell like roses or lemons (depending on whether a man or woman is reading), two that stain with the bloody fingerprints of the those who handle them, one that ignites when brushed with breath, thirteen sewn from baby skin, one that moans when touched, and one that screams—yet all without mass, unimaginable, and invisible.”
But my favorite has to be the blurb by Lucas Astor, PhD (courtesy of Samuel Ligon) which contains the embedded narrative of the reviewer’s affair with the would-be book’s author, who taught him, “over and over, first in my office, then in her apartment, also in the woods behind Barrett Hall and in so many other places, at AWP in the New York Hilton for example,” that their thirty-five-year age difference was inconsequential and that he should not under any circumstances introduce her to his agent.
Not surprisingly, this collection is packed with enough obscure references to scare away the lay-reader, and to have the AWP crowd snorting our lattes through our noses. But it also has zombies, so check it out.“ - Anna Laird Barto

The Official Catalog of Potential Literature—Selections

In early 2011, Cow Heavy Books published The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, a compendium of catalog 'blurbs' for non-existent desired or ideal texts. Along with Erinrose Mager, I edited the project, in a process that was more like curation as it mainly entailed asking a range of contemporary writers, theorists, and text-makers to send us an entry. What resulted was a creative/critical hybrid anthology, a small book in which each page opens to a new iteration of textual desire.
These texts explore the material possibilities of the book. Somewhat parallel to the call of N. Katherine Hayles who, in her book Writing Machines, urges literary theorists to take up the practice of Medium Specific Analysis (to account for the way the medium in which it is presented conditions or at least bears on a literary text). I see in the imagined works of The Official Catalog a call for the innovative writers of today to become Medium-Responsive. This would mean thinking through the specific (materially constrained) possibilities offered by the media in which texts are presented, and in thinking of the literary text as a kind of art in the greater context of other arts and the book as a medium situated within the context of many other media. In doing so, the contemporary writer refutes the chorus of critics who lament the death of the book by consistently reinvigorating literary innovation.
The following are selections from The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature that show possible paths for (thinking about) new writing that engages with its medium. Ben Segal, Editor

Even the most radical non-linear texts have tended to exploit or subvert only the sequential possibilities of print—from the continuous loop of Joyce's Finnegans Wake to the shuffled cards of Marc Saporta's Composition No. 1—but The Cube takes such multiplicities to an entirely new level. Set in a grid, the book's words can be read conventionally, across the page, as well as down each column—with either route making complete grammatical sense. But they can also be read as stacked strata and mined like lexical core samples through the layered pages of the book. Each path tells the same story from a different perspective (the narrative, naturally, hinges on the potential outcomes of a throw of cubed dice). By opening up the z-axis to reading in this way, The Cube recognizes the book as a three-dimensional sculptural space. Taking its lead from Armand Schwerner's (If Personal) and Raymond Queneau's Cent mille milliards de poèmes, The Cube reads like a experiment by Christian Bök precision printed by Emily McVarish. - Craig Dworkin

In He Goes, we read notes, letters and e-mails from a scholar father to his novelist daughter. We read of the father's musings on Beckett, on Pinter, on Anne Frank; his description of a woman hanging laundry from a line. We read about his journey toward dying, followed by a brief, third person account of his death, and his obituary. Then a long series of blank pages that demand to be read in real time, non-sentence by non-sentence, blank page by blank page. Finally—and it is here that this peculiar little book begins to soar—the dead father writes to his as-of-yet-still-living daughter. He does not write from death. He does not write from life. The words unprint, unstamp, unkindle. Still, they require no translation. The father "writes" (for lack of a better word) about the serendipitous, the commonplace; he recommends another book. He jokes. He asks his daughter how her stomach is. He says forget about presence in absence, darling; screw words as memorial and the guys in garbage cans and loss as redemption and I can't go on I must go on. He goes, "Love, Fodder." He goes, "incidentally." He goes, "I thought you might like to know."- Elizabeth Graver

A stunning package and a triumph of imagination, The Paper Archivist at times looks to be less a book than an abstract expressionist painting. Softly bound, its contents unfold to a single sheet of uneven thickness and texture—a canvas splattered with colored lines, stickers, broken sentences, and nonsense pictographs. But by following the directions to fold, dip, smell, rub, scratch, and tear the sheet according to the contingencies of the weather and using only the objects at hand, the reader slowly brings the forces hidden in the noise into a glorious sculptural convergence, processing a different story and shape each time. This is the rare book that continues to stir, whirl, and pop on every new reading. - Sean Higgins

The Slow Book, written by an anonymous author at the dawn of literacy, on a minor planet (otherwise notable only as the source of that exceptionally hardy, not very tasty grain called “shef” sowed on hostile planets as an early step to colonization), and encoded into a series of punctures on a strip of copper coiled inside a clever device, something between a player piano and an old-fashioned film projector, is being released into print, as was the author’s intention, at a rate of one word per century (local time). Each word is, across the Forty Galaxies, agreed to be uncannily apt for the century in which it appears—even “of,” in a century during which the highest value was attached to fidelity, whether to ideals, worlds, or romantic love; even “the,” which governed two centuries, one extraordinarily materialistic, during which advances in propulsion and navigation accelerated the exchange of exceptional objects between the remotest planets of the Forty, and one in which the central concern, both of philosophers and the common man, was whether, in an age of rapidly proliferating hypothetical worlds, anyone or anything concretely existed at all. Even those words published long before interstellar contact can be seen in retrospect to have transgalactic pertinence. As a result, attempts to abstract the machine from its publishers, Hobson & Hui, in order to “predict the future” for insight or gain by “fast- forwarding” the copper strip have been many and ingenious. While, in centuries of skepticism (“maybe”), or of unrest (“go”) the book has been nearly forgotten, in others it seems to haunt every thought, every deed, despite the fact that the subject of The Slow Book is still unclear. So far only a few sentences exist in print; everyone knows them, can quote them, offer the standard exegeses and assorted heresies; yet certainties are the stuff of adolescence; mature readers are forced to acknowledge that these sentences are probably only a preamble to the main argument. They contain no proper nouns, nor can we identify any definite theme. There is even disagreement about their tone, whether coolly ironic, as some insist, or ardent. The appearance of an unusual grammatical case, sometimes called the future pluperfect continuous, used to describe events that at some future point will have always been true (but are not yet)—hitherto known to appear only in the synthetic dogmas of the Thanatographical Society, and in certain highly circumscribed religious contexts—has suggested to some scholars that the Slow Book was originally intended for ritual use, but the proximity of the usage to a term designating a small hand plow that, as Pott and Mielcke have convincingly shown, would have borne a distinctly obscene double meaning in its culture of origin in the author’s time, argues otherwise. It is likewise unclear whether the situation that seems to be—with teasing incompleteness—sketched out in these few lines is intended as an illustration of general principles, a case study, a dramatic scene, or an extended metaphor. In short, we have no idea what The Slow Book is about. In our own time, we believe that it is almost certainly a work of fiction, but that may be because we live in the century of “if”. In each age, perhaps, we see the book we most need to read. Some have dared to suggest that the metal strip is blank until, with millennial fanfare, it advances into its new position, that no ur-text exists, that the book itself is brought into being—written—by our need. But that is exactly the sort of thing we would believe, in 7645. - Shelley Jackson


The Book of Sounds is just that: a book of sounds made when letters are construed in new ways to bring forth out of the alphabet new forms of speech. A book meant to be read out loud, The Book of Sounds is not unlike Laurie Anderson's O Superman or Brian Eno's Music for Airports in its attempt to make music out of the most primary and simplest of methods. It breaks language down to its barest bones and makes out of the page a drum that has never before been beaten upon.
- Peter Markus

Although the reclusive Celan Solen published his first and only book in 1963—paying out-of-pocket for a limited edition of the slim collection No One May Have the Same Knowledge Again—he remained in American obscurity for almost three decades. In 1992 a micro-press in Istanbul brought out No One in Turkish. A German translation followed in 1995. Soon it became clear in literary circles Solen was a world-class (if highly unclassifiable) artist—lyrical, dense, enigmatic—who could undo the conventional short story in 397 words by inventing impossible worlds housed in impossible whirls (in “Small Sadnesses,” a single chartreuse tree frog in Borneo unknowingly holds time together by its very presence in the universe, while each letter of its tale refers, not to itself, but to the one preceding it in the alphabet). By his disappearance last year, Solen was considered master by a generation of writers and critics (except, alas, for those gentlemen in the Swedish Academy). Imagine, then, that generation’s delight at the discovery, locked away in the author’s safe-deposit box, of his second and final composition. Had Lynch’s Lost Highway been book instead of film, and had it been penned by Beckett at his least certain, revised by Barthelme at his most formally deranged, and typeset by Derrida at his most semiotically catastrophic, the result might have been something like Paradise of the Blind: interlacing narratives of a man composed of borrowed organs (whose most cheerless and difficult to locate, god, could only have been invented by an empty heart), a nonexistent medieval painting blamed for the ruin of future hope, and the spread of a philosophy that holds earth a mistake constantly recurring in the dream of a fish lying on the floor of the Atlantic (if the fish wakes, our world winks off)—all contained in a text packed with typed-over passages, torn postcards, poems that can be deciphered only when held up to a mirror, pages ornamented with trompe-l'œil paperclips and coffee stains and buzzing houseflies, some busy with illegible runes that dissolve when exposed to light, three that smell like roses or lemons (depending on whether a man or woman is reading), two that stain with the bloody fingerprints of the those who handle them, one that ignites when brushed with breath, thirteen sewn from baby skin, one that moans when touched, and one that screams—yet all without mass, unimaginable, and invisible.- Lance Olsen

As soon as I opened the third drawer of Barbara D'Albi's wooden novel, everything became hopeless. Now in Ithaca, there was no going back. And it wasn't just the intricate series of shelves, hinged doors and locked drawers which D'Albi layered into the book, no, lo, I was constructed anew by the story. Who else but D'Albi to imagine a God who becomes a carpenter and gets killed?! And makes it good! You want stories? D'Albi is a skyscraper, built with planes and levers. Momentarily I wondered where I could shelve this book, and then I thought: no matter; I couldn't put it down. -Adam Robinson


No Collective - Tweaking of concert flyers (giving different starting time for each flyer...), contrivances to make each person a “solo” audience...

No Collective, Concertos, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011.

"A musical notation can either describe an event that has already happened or prescribe an event to be performed by the reader. No Collective's (You Nakai. et al.) Concertos, the second book in the Emergency Playscript Series, uses both description and prescription to notate a musical performance. The original Concertos premiered in 2008 in Tokyo, performed by four musicians, a dog, a bird, and several guests. The playscript evokes the original piece while embedding the experience of reading the playscript into any subsequent performances of the piece."

"No Collective (You Nakai, et al.) makes music performances which explore and problematize both the conceptual and material infrastructures of music and performance.
Central to their endeavor is the generally unquestioned notion of people sharing "one" space and time at a music performance. In an attempt to dismantle this pseudo-truism, No Collective employ various strategies which extend from the tweaking of concert flyers (giving different starting time for each flyer, making three different flyers with different titles and designs but with the same date and place, etc), contrivances to make each person a “solo” audience (dragging each audience’s seat to different parts of the venue, controlling the sound volume in relation to the distance to a specific person, etc), to the pluralization of the framing of performance (packing all equipments during performance leaving only portable equipments carried by performers which continues to play as they head home with friends, etc). The basic objective of these temporal constructs is theoretical–ontological in that it examines what time is and the different ways it may be systematized, and practical-political in that it criticizes a singular ground to which all differences can be reduced, by foregrounding several incommensurate grounds.
Since its inception in 2006, members of No Collective have varied both in quantity (from one to twenty) and quality (from reluctant music novices to professional instrumentalists) according to each works’ objective and situational conditions. Following founder You Nakai’s relocation from Tokyo to New York in September 2009, the works of No Collective have shifted to a comparatively individual scale, addressing the physical conditions (medium specificity) of the performer/instrument, and consequently the border between public and private (the dividuality of the individual). Most recent works include , in which You Nakai did not sleep for the number of days it took him to learn how to play a lullaby on the piano, and then, in this sleepy state, performed the piece until he fell asleep."

"Believing themselves to be quite progressive for their species, a group of ants get together and decide to form a collective. They gather the necessary documentation, fill out all the proper information in the correct little boxes, get photos taken in appropriate size and dimension and angle, and step precisely through every single hoop required of them to become an officially recognized collective.
Their application is denied, however, on the grounds that ants are an inherently collective species, and this designation would be redundant and downright unnecessary.
One ant is so upset by this verdict that it begins to cry, thereby forging a breach in the collective emotional unity of the group. This very breach, however, makes the officer falter, reconsider for a brief moment, entertaining the possibility of a radical change of heart, but this very possibility of a change in the officer's heart makes the ant's tears dry up, which lands them all back at their original, inherently collective state, and that's the end of that story." - Sawako Nakayasu

"Tria Partio Voki
written by you nakai
premiered at yelena gluzman’s first performance party
At a party, the operator will casually chat with each person, asking for their phone numbers. Having assembled a list of all phone numbers, the operator will go to another room.
Part 1:
Using the phone numbers given to him, the operator will start calling people, one by one. The receiver of his phone will act as a microphone, and the speakers of the other 3 phones will be the sounds sources used to make music. The solo listener will hear any combination of jingles, phone information, telephonic radio programs, telephone story lines, weather forecasts, and noise, as the operator mixes the sounds of several phones.
Part 2 (variant a):
If the listener remains on the phone for a certain length of time, they will suddenly also be confronted with a voice. The voice will be of another person who, having been called, will engage in a conversation with the listener. The speaker will be in another time zone (country), and will be a reluctant participant; that is, he or she will not know the structure of the piece. The listener may engage in conversation or not. If he does, he becomes a solo performer for the other people at the party.
Part 2 (variant b):
The speaker will be another listener, so at the party, two solo listeners/performers, in the same room, are connected momentarily through the telephone.
The piece ends when all the people at the party are called.
If the listener and/or speaker doesn't answer the phone, the voicemail or answering machine will record the piece, leaving a record for the person to find out next day.
Tokyo, 24 May 2008"

"Mapo de la Spuroj de Yu
written by you nakai
premiered at loop-line, tokyo, 23 January 2009
Mapo de la Spuroj de Yu is a solo music performance.

To perform this piece, the following are required:
A: one wireless headphone
B: a long-time delay system
C: one wireless microphone
D: headphone extension cords
E: one speaker-performer
F: several chairs
G: several people sitting on chairs
H: two telephones
I: one interpreter
J: several listeners
1: All sounds occurring within the performance space and time are delayed for the length of three minutes.
2: The delayed sound is played from the speaker’s headphone.
3: This sound from three minute past is used as a map to guide the performance.
4: After the initial three minutes of first mapmaking, all the lights in the venue go out.
5: The performance consists in: a) the reading of this instruction, while, b) moving through the performance space; both of which will create a map of its own.
6: The speaker-performer will also use the people sitting on chairs as instruments by dragging them around one by one.
7: The sound map instructs the performer: a) the volume and timing of sounds to be produced, b) the speed and timing of movement (i.e., the dragging of people/chairs) within the performance space.
8: For every action made, the speaker performer will choose one person sitting on a chair as a microphone. The volume of the sound to be produced is determined according to the distance to the given microphone (reading will therefore include yelling and whispering).
9: The speaker-performer will also choose one audience member as an interpreter and telephone that person during the performance.
10: The assigned interpreter must translate the words heard through the receiver (i.e., the sound map) to a second language.
11: All sounds and therefore all actions generated during the performance must first follow, and then become, the map.
12: The performance ends and lights are turned on when this instruction is read until the end.

Tokyo, 13-23 January 2009."

koncerto no 1.

sinfonio samothraki

No Collective