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Supporting the Mead-Hall

July 15th, 2013

KGB Sign

The fantasy genre first found its voice in the mead halls, gathering places where traveling scops told tales of heroes, monsters, and adventures in distant lands.

Today, the tradition of live storytelling continues every fourth Wednesday when fantastic fiction lovers gather for Fantastic Fiction at the KGB Bar, at 85 East Fourth Street in New York City.

It’s a terrific series, and one worth supporting.

Matt and EllenLast month, hosts Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel launched a Kickstarter campaign to underwrite the continuation of the series, and today, with eleven days left, the campaign has passed the $5000 mark – underwriting the continuation of Fantastic Fiction at the KGB for the next three years. It’s an impressive accomplishment, but Ellen and Matt would love to raise $7000 by the campaign’s end. That amount will fund the program’s next four years while also covering the cut taken by Kickstarter and Amazon for helping run the campaign.

ScopIf you love good fiction, and if you believe as I do that the art of live storytelling still has a place in today’s world, please take a moment to support this remarkable series. Pledges can be as low as $1, and some amazing prizes start at just the $15 level. But hurry. The campaign ends on July 26.

For more information, please click here to see the campaign’s press release. Or, if I’ve already convinced you, simply click here and go straight to the KGB Kickstarter page. At both links, you can learn more about the future of Fantastic Fiction at the KGB and peruse some of the amazing gifts that can be yours for supporting its continuation.

But of course the real reward will be in knowing that you played your part in supporting live storytelling in the 21st century.

The Beowulf poet would be proud.

Image Credits:

Screen cap of the KGB Sign from the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Fundraiser video.

Fantastic Fiction hosts Matthew Kressel and Ellen Datlow from the Fantastic Fiction at the KGB Fundraiser page.

“Beowulf replies haughtily to Unferth” by John Henry F. Bacon (1910).

Scop 101

June 25th, 2011

scop (skop)  — n

(in Anglo-Saxon England) a bard or minstrel

an Anglo-Saxon minstrel, usually attached to a particular royal court, although scops also traveled to various courts to recite their poetry. In addition to being an entertainer who composed and performed his own works, the scop served as a kind of historian and preserver of the oral tradition […]. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008.

ScopBack in the days before printed books, when the live reading was the primary means of getting literature to the public, storytellers appreciated the connection between music and narrative. They knew that delivering a story was more than just reciting words, but today that seems to have been forgotten.

Have you attended a reading lately? Did the author bring a backup band? Keyboard? Boombox? Probably not. It’s easier to just bring a book.

I remember Lawrence Ferlinghetti at a performance sponsored by the now defunct (and sorely missed) International Poetry Forum. It was April 3, 1968, and Ferlinghetti was reading from his collection A Coney Island of the Mind.

I was young and The cover of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's collections Coney Island of the Mindimpressionable, studying the performance, learning from the master. For an hour it was just Ferlinghetti and his voice, but then, for his final piece, he produced a tape player, adjusted the podium microphone so that it hung midway between his face and the machine. I remember the pose. He held it like an harp, for a moment recalling a classic pose of Florence Farr. Then he hit play.

And then – in the tradition of the Anglo-Saxon scop – he read “Moscow in the Wilderness, Segovia in the Snow” while guitar music played beneath his words.

IFarrPsaltryn the years that followed, I heard others do the same. Most notably Patti Smith, who gave spoken word performances accompanied by guitarist Lenny Kaye in the early 70s, and four-time Bram Stoker Award winner Michael A. Arnzen, who released AudioVile, a CD featuring some of his stories read to original music, in 2007. But live meldings of music and spoken word remain relatively rare, even though modern technology makes it easier than ever to bring quality sound to a reading. Indeed, full multi-media accompaniment – laptop, PA, projector, and screen – can fit easily into the backseat of a Cobalt.

In 2008, as Fantasist Enterprises was preparing to debut my novel Veins at GenCon, I began working on a studio CD of music inspired by the novel. Part of the impetus for the project was a CD that Poe had produced based on Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves. But also in the back of my mind was that long ago performance by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. If all went well, I figured the new music might enable me to score live readings from the book.

The resulting CD, Veins: the Soundtrack, was released by Fantasist in 2009, and that summer I took music and book on the road, giving readings at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts, Confluence, GenCon, Context , and PAISTA, a gathering of educators at the Kiski School in western Pennsylvania.

Naturally, writers needn’t produce original CDs in order to score their readings. There’s a lot of music out there. More than ever before. And the technology needed to arrange and edit a playlist is probably already on the computer you are using to read this blog.

With 21st-Century Scop, I’d like to talk about bringing live readings back to their roots and employing new forms of media. There’s a lot to consider as we move headlong into the future. Let’s follow the road together, see where it leads.