Music For Writers: Cerrone’s ‘Cities’ Of Ancient Urban Mythology

Image - iStockphoto: Yauhenka
Image – iStockphoto: Yauhenka

Turn Off The Lights

I have to agree with Tony Frankel at Stage and Cinema on this one: Get into your headphones and shut your eyes.

Invisible Cities wants to live inside your head. And the darker that place might be, the better.

Never in all my travels had I ventured as far as Adelma.
It was dusk when I blew in there…
On the dock was a sailor who tied the rope…
He resembled a man I had soldiered with and is now dead.

We talk a lot — in regards to literary fiction vs. much of genre work — about how literary frequently seems (at least to some of its detractors) to be plotless.

An old man was loading a basket of sea urchins on a cart.
…I realized he looked like a fisherman I knew as a child…
Who could no longer be among the living.

It rarely is actually the case, of course, that there’s “no story!” or “no plot!” in literary — rarely true that “nothing happens in it!” as its critics love to grouse . Much of it may be mercifully free of car chases and bank teller holdups, but literary fiction generally quite active on emotional and intellectual planes.

I was upset by a fever victim huddled on the ground.
He had a blanket over his head.
My father…before his death…had yellow eyes and a growth of beard like this one.

Christopher Cerrone
Christopher Cerrone

It’s interesting in the article Christopher Cerrone’s Seductive Headphone Opera ‘Invisible Cities’ at Q2 Music– there we read Carnegie Hall’s perceptive Carol Ann Cheung refer to Cerrone’s work as “not a narrative-driven opera.”

She’s right that “and then this happened and then that happened” isn’t what’s at issue here. And yet, as you gather from her admiration for the work, you won’t feel that nothing is going on. Far from it.

Invisible Cities — its new recording is produced by The Industry Records, is based on Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel of the same title. It imagines a conversation between the Venetian Marco Polo (sung by Ashley Faatoalia) and the elderly Tartar emperor Kublai Khan (Cedric Berry) in which Polo describes fabulous cities to the great ruler.

Once again, with the kind assistance of New York Public Radio’s 24-hour free Internet stream, Q2 Music, we’re able to give you a chance to listen as you read while the recording is being featured as Album of the Week at Q2 Music.

I recommend you start right at the beginning, with the nervous, rocking, repetitive slash of sound that recalls Eleni Karaindrou’s sometimes archaic-toned soundtrack scores. From the first notes, you can tell this music is joking about nothing. The sense of vulnerability, menace, a sort of spacious awe, is immediately in place.

By the end of this opening section, the instrumental Overture, Cerrone’s orchestration — at the time-code 5:12 on this track — pulls off a fabulous little flare-up of dangerous, stabbing sound that stands on a massive bed of ocean-deep brass, unnerving and riveting for its audacity. You’ll be hooked before you hear the first note sung.

Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

Writing on the Ether: Music For Writers: Cerrone’s ‘Cities’ Of Ancient Urban Mythology

Originally published by Thought Catalog at



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