PARMA artist Michael Evans‘ latest release on Navona Records, was based on the H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Music of Erich Zann.” The story is set on a narrow street named Rue d’Auseil, and on that street, there’s an old apartment building where few lived. With only a short walk from the university, a metaphysics college student takes rent on the fifth floor. At night he hears mysterious music playing, eerie and haunting. That music is played by Erich Zann, an old string player, not for pleasure, but to keep whatever is lurking outside the only curtained covered window of his room, away.
H.P. Lovecraft, now the household name for horror fiction, didn’t hit his literature fame until after his death in 1947. After Lovecraft died, he left more than 60 short stories, novellas, and novels behind. Two of his writing friends who were inspired by his writing, August Derleth, and Donald Wandrei, started a publishing house known as Arkham House in order to archive and promote Lovecraft’s work. Since then, his works have inspired many horror fiction writers such as Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Neil Gaiman. Lovecraft’s stories have been published and made into films over and over again, including Hunters of the Dark and Cthulhu.
Evans completed the recording session for THE MUSIC OF ERICH ZANN with the PARMA engineering team and Sirius Quartet in New York during the summer of 2016. During the sessions, we were able to capture some sneak peak recording footage.
After the session, we got to sit down and talk with Evans about the inspiration for this H.P. Lovecraft project, the session experience, and his favorite spooky go-to’s! Take a look…
You have an impressive body of work and despite the poems, variations, sonatas, ballets, and (anti)concertos, this is your String Quartet No. 1. What inspired you to write your first string quartet?
Well, I’ve always wanted to write one; but, since I’m not a string player, I was a little intimidated about starting. Still, it is a form that, as a composer, you really have to try at least once. After writing quite a few orchestral works and working with Vit Muzik, and hearing his feedback, I finally felt confident enough to take one on.
I must have gotten over any fear quickly because the piece just flew out of me. I finished it in about 10-12 weeks and it is a little over 1 hr long.
Without giving away too much, this project is related to the “Music of Erich Zann,” a story from H.P. Lovecraft. How did you draw up the initial idea to tie this story into your composition?
That actually came quite naturally. As you know, I’ve been working on a series of multimedia projects that use music as the narrator of classic literature and stories. The stories are the basis for the form and emotional trajectory of the music. The first was MISERY, released last year, based on the Anton Chekhov short story. Given that the Lovecraft story is about a student’s encounter with a strange string player, I thought iy was the perfect subject for the string quartet.
This piece also includes some pretty wild effects and manipulation from the players. Do they relate to the narrative of the story in any way?
Absolutely! They all do. In general, when composing, I try to only use effects if they have a purpose or meaning. In this piece, there is the sound of creaking stairs, a squeaky door, and a ton of effects representing the things that are entering from another dimension. There are also air sounds, microtonal passages, and harmonics. These are all enhanced by the use of electronic effects, and they can all be performed live.
The quartet was recorded last month with the Sirius Quartet in NYC. How was the experience working with the quartet and what did they bring to the table?
The experience itself was fantastic! I loved working with these guys. They were really into the piece and totally embraced the unusual nature of it. Also, because of the repertoire that they normally perform, they were really experienced with the electronic aspects of it and were able to bring about some really fantastic moments.
You also have a journal that accompanies the recording – can you tell us more about the origin of the journal and what it portrays?
The story is told as though someone is recalling an event from their past, so, I expanded on this idea of relating a past experience by telling the story through the pages of an old journal, and brought the story into the modern day by doing a video claiming to have received the journal from my uncle’s estate and releasing it on my YouTube channel prior to recording the piece.
The journal is also used to create the visual track that accompanies the music. It guides the person through the music, so you are listening to the music while reading the story and seeing sketched images.
Creating the journal was extremely labor intensive. I had to age and distress a journal, copy the story in fountain pen, then create images, initially photographs, which were then converted into sketches and pasted into the journal. From there, each page was photographed again and a movie or visual track was created from those photos. A bit of trivia for horror fans: the photo representing the staircase in the description of the Rue d’Auseil is the same staircase used in the movie “The Exorcist.”
This is a massive undertaking. What do you hope listeners take away from this project?
Well, I hope they like the music and they are drawn into the story. Another thing I hope to accomplish with this project, (actually the whole series), is to draw larger audiences to new music. By providing a visual track to accompany the music, the intimidation factor should be lessened or eliminated and people can walk away with a better understanding of the music itself and what I was hearing in my head when I read the story.
Before you go, October and Lovecraft go together like peanut butter and jelly. In the spirit of Halloween, what are some of your favorite horror stories or films?
I’m such a horror fan that this could take a while. I am a huge Anne Rice fan and have read all the Vampire Chronicles as well as the Witching Hour series. I also loved the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris.
As far as movies, I think I’ve seen every Friday the 13th movie, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, all the Halloween’s, the Hellraiser series and, the classic Hammer Studios movies. Still, I think my favorites have to be The Exorcist, the Pumpkinhead movies, The whole Candyman trilogy, Session 9, (which is one of the creepiest I’ve seen), and last but not least, a made for TV movie from 1975 called Trilogy of Terror. I loved that movie!
By Samantha Granville, Social Media Specialist