Linen is based on a poem entitled White Linen by the Swiss author and poet Robert Walser (1878-1956). Walser’s poems and stories, scripted in the tiniest pencil scratchings imaginable (with letters measuring about 1 millimetre in height), have been described as “magnificently humble, enormously small… and meaningfully ridiculous.” His particularly tiny script was so mysterious that his works were overlooked for many years, thought to be written in a kind of code needing deciphering. Walser was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent decades confined to a sanatorium in Switzerland. There are thoughts that the start of his physical and mental breakdown also may have given birth to his use of microscopic pencil writing.
Rehearsal video of Linen played by thin edge collective at Gallery 345 in February (video by Allison Gray):
When I began composing Linen for Thin Edge Collective, as taken as I was with the poem White Linen, I couldn’t ignore the compelling image of Walser’s miniature pencil forms— themselves a visual poetry, and process-oriented restructuring of thematic imagination. I looked for possible ways to emulate Walser’s approach musically, to construct ‘textures from tiny’— an extremely dense and closely-knit series of events from small gestures.
Walser’s poem describes white linen stirring in the wind, asking if he too can be carried away by a certain lightness. He soon realizes however that, like the world, he cannot escape being taken by the dark quiet of night. (February 2014)
A little movement stirs the linen,
it’s in the garden, in the wind
which comes, a marvel, from the sky.
The sky is halfway still, half wild;
half it is involved with cloud,
half stepping brightly out in blue.
Already the sun has been forgotten
and all the world is making ready
to disappear into a garden
which is evening; white the linen
stirs in a gentle wind, the evening
wind, does it make a sort of linen
airily also stir in me?
I don’t believe so. Quiet night
has just become entirely sovereign.
The breeze in me now stirs no more.
Robert Walser (1878-1956)