Sitting in a bustling coffee shop in Seattle, it occurs to me that Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn — simply Mirah for the purposes of her records — has nothing to prove.
Since her full-length solo debut, You Think It’s Like This but Really It’s Like This, she’s carved out a niche for herself as a much loved and respected member of the Northwest indie elite, winning accolades for a series of lo-ﬁ albums that have met with broad critical acclaim.
I’m also talking with cellist Lori Goldston and accordionist Kyle Hanson. They don’t have much to prove either. They’ve made their marks in Northwest art music as founding members of Black Cat Orchestra, Spectratone International, and the duo The Shifting Light; they’ve scored silent ﬁlms and collaborated on dance, music, and theatre projects. Goldston has played with artists like Nirvana, David Byrne, and John Doe.
Though Goldston and Hanson have, in fact, already once collaborated with Mirah by way of Black Cat Orchestra — on To All We Stretch the Open Arm, a collection of politically-minded covers of works by Kurt Weill, Stephen Foster, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and others — Share This Place is a whole other animal.
In addition to being a whole cycle of new compositions culled from the works of Jean Henri Fabré (an eccentric autodidact considered by many to be the father of modern entomology) and The Insect Play by playwright Karel Capek, Share This Place was also performed live with a series of specially-created, stop-motion animated shorts by ﬁlmmaker Britta Johnson at the Seattle International Children’s Festival on May 14, 2007.
I’m almost obligated to ask…Jean Henri Fabré?
[The research] was about being infused with a certain sense of language, and then trying it on like a costume, myself, as a writer.
According to Goldston, “It was a tip from our friend, who’s a writer. We had dinner with her, and I mentioned that I’d been reading about insects, and we talked about Fabré.” So the initial fascination was about insects? How did that come about? Lori chuckles. “My life is a series of passing and permanent obsessions.
“I would say that it coincided with Kyle and I having this not quite… like, a few-month-old baby, and I was sitting around in the yard a lot and thinking about insects. You know — watching them. You have to sit around a lot when you have kids. As adults, most of us are running around too much to sit around and watch insects for hours a day.”
With all that said, Share This Place wasn’t a strictly entomological endeavor. “Because it’s about the lives of the insects, and Fabré is all about the lives, and the dramas, and the personalities of the insects, it’s much, much bigger than any particular insects,” says Hanson.
“It’s anthropomorphizing them, really,” adds Mirah.
Capek’s work certainly wasn’t a particularly scientiﬁc inﬂuence, either. Goldston notes, “Those are crazy plays, very early 20th Century. I don’t think he was a capital ‘D’ Dadaist, but I think he was a small ‘d’ Dadaist. It’s definitely in that vein.”
And were the songs culled directly from this material? “A lot of it was adapted from the sources — the tone of a lot of them,” says Mirah. “It was about being infused with a certain sense of language and then trying it on like a costume, myself, as a writer.”
The result of this research is a series of micro-narratives, twelve tracks of surreal, unforced whimsy that make their subjects seem both more and less like us — concerned as they are with eerily anthropomorphized interests and obsessions, yet mired as they are in a material world completely alien to our own.
The CD was issued in August; a DVD that will include Britta Johnson’s animated ﬁlms is coming shortly thereafter. How such a thing comes into being is a story unto itself.