The BQE
Release Date
1 January 2009

The BQE (2009)

45min · Musical
Sufjan Stevens is proud to present The BQE, a cinematic suite inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Hula-Hoop. Commissioned by Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), The BQE was originally performed in the Howard Gilman Opera House in celebration of the 25th anniversary Next Wave Festival in October of 2007. The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is an incidental 12.7 miles of urban roadway built over the course of several decades (1939-1964), spear-headed by the master architect Robert Moses to accommodate for the increase of commercial and commuter traffic in New York City's outer boroughs. The roadway was a painstaking piecemeal project, poorly planned, badly built, and relentlessly encumbered by the obvious obstacles of the era: red tape, neighborhood protests, World War II, and a congested borough whose sequestering layout proved ill-fitting for the automobile. The resulting expressway-a pockmarked, serpentine, congested BQE-has become one of Brooklyn's most notable icons of urban blight. And, for Sufjan Stevens, an object of unmitigated inspiration. The official album release of The BQE follows nearly two years after its original performance at BAM, providing the songwriter (and his various collaborators) ample time to wrestle out all the thematic incarnations of the project, and to attempt an appropriation of Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work"). The resulting album might be best described as a grand creative franchise-incorporating movie, symphony, comic book, dissertation, photography, graphic design, and a 3-D Viewmaster® reel-in which a songwriter's interrogation of one of New York's ugliest landmarks expands athletically to forums and formulas outside of the song itself. In fact, the BQE is everything but a song. First and foremost, The BQE is a self-made home-movie documentation, exhibiting how all the architectural colors of Brooklyn and Queens are fabulously intersected by this ramshackle artery of highway traffic. Shot renegade style on do-it-yourself film cameras, the animated footage of grid-lock crisscrossing the brick and mortar of Brooklyn flickers and cascades Koyaanisqatsi-style on three simultaneous screens. The 16mm cinematography (heroically shot by Reuben Kleiner on a 1960s Bolex) utilizes time-lapse photography, in-camera editing, slow motion, and post-production mirror effects to transform urban blight into a splendor of graphic compositions. The BQE is also accompanied by an idiosyncratic musical soundtrack (composed by Stevens for band and chamber orchestra), evoking a romanticized musical choreography of perpetual motion vs. gridlock. Borrowing variously from Gershwin, Terry Riley, Charles Ives, and Autechre (to name a few), the music showcases skittish woodwinds wrestling out impressionist articulation (in 7/8) and imperial brass anthems evoking various incarnations of the music of the automobile. Further Information: The BQE is available as a double-disc format (CD/DVD), which includes the original 16mm/8mm film (in widescreen "triptych" display), the original motion picture soundtrack, a 40-page booklet (with extensive liner notes and photographs), and the stereoscopic image reel - Written by Microcinema International
8.0/10
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