LOU'S VIEWS: Studio Vonnegut

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry

VonnegutKurt Vonnegut fans who suffered through the cinematic versions of his novels “Breakfast of Champions” and “Slapstick” know that Indy’s favorite native literary son didn’t have great artistic success when his books and short stories were adapted to other media. Sure, the film “Slaughterhouse-5” was fine—and a few other under-the-radar works were OK—but not many Vonnegut spin-offs added much value to his eclectic oeuvre.

So it would be understandable if you approach the new CD “Mother Night/Breakfast of Champions” (Keuka Classical) as I did, with a Vonnegut-ian degree of rueful wariness.

First, let me explain what exactly this disc isn’t. It’s not a book on tape. It’s not a Vonnegut monologue recorded for posterity. And it’s not a chance to hear Vonnegut sing (although he does warble a few notes).

Rather, it’s an eccentric classical, jazz and blues composition from Howard Cass, played by the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra and accented with the voice of Vonnegut, who spent time in a recording studio reading excerpts from the pair of title books. To solidify the local connection, it’s conducted by Butler University Professor of Music Richard Auldon Clark, who also plays viola.

Where Vonnegut was consistent to a fault, always writing in the same, unmistakable voice, the recording is a mixed bag. I was won over completely by the first track, in which a Samuel Barber-evoking intro leads comfortably into Vonnegut’s elegant, melancholy, deeply moving evocation of loss and longing—opening with the plaintive statement, “About that purgatory of mine.”

The rest of the first half of the recording is as strong, whether in the spirited, Vonnegut-free “Mother Night I” or “Freedom Again,” in which Vonnegut’s character defines what did and didn’t cause him to freeze in place.

“What had made me move through so many dead and pointless years,” wrote (and reads) Vonnegut, “was curiosity. Now even that had flickered out.”

Already moving on the page, Vonnegut’s words are given space by the orchestration, with sentences lingering evocatively as the instruments fill in, making it impossible to move to the next phrase without pondering the last. At these moments, the disc is at its meditative best.

The consistency of vision gives the “Mother Night” section a wholeness and focused vision that isn’t present in the more ambitious “Breakfast of Champions.” There’s still terrific, strong work here—especially in Vonnegut’s remembrance of “Armistice Day.” But I could do without the ersatz ’60s pop of “And So On,” in which a cacophony of voices repeat Vonnegut’s signature phrase. Or the equally-repetitious-for-no-apparent-or-interesting-reason intro and close to an otherwise sharp Vonnegut passage in “Goodbye Blue Monday.” In most of their uses, additional voices become intrusions rather than additions.

I’m still uncertain about the opera intonations of the final piece, “Free,” in which Vonnegut’s iconic character Kilgore Trout is set free by the narrator. It’s powerful in parts, but the polished additional voice doesn’t have the personality that Vonnegut and the strings bring to the work.

Still, even with valleys to offset some of the peaks, the disc, like a good Vonnegut book, should hold up to repeated exposures. I’m going to count on it to carry me through many a commute.•


This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. why oh why does this state continue to elect these people....do you wonder how much was graft out of the 3.8 billion?

  2. i too think this is a great idea. I think the vision and need is there as well. But also agree with Wendy that there may be better location in our city to fulfill this vision and help grow the sports of hockey and figure skating in Indy. Also to help further develop other parts of the city that seem often forgotten. Any of the other 6 townships out side of the three northernmost could benefit greatly from a facility and a vision like this. For a vision that sounds philanthropic, the location is appears more about the money. Would really like to see it elsewhere, but still wish the development the best of luck, as we can always use more ice in the city. As for the Ice growth when they return, if schedules can be coordinated with the Fuel, what could be better than to have high level hockey available to go see every weekend of the season? Good luck with the development and the return of the Ice.

  3. How many parking spaces do they have at Ironworks? Will residents have reserved spaces or will they have to troll for a space among the people that are there at Ruth Chris & Sangiovese?

  4. You do not get speeding ticket first time you speed and this is not first time Mr.Page has speed. One act should not define a man and this one act won't. He got off with a slap on the wrist. I agree with judge no person was injured by his actions. The state was robbed of money by paying too much rent for a building and that money could have been used for social services. The Page family maybe "generous" with their money but for most part all of it is dirty money that he obtained for sources that are not on the upright. Page is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name. He paid off this judge like he has many other tine and walked away. Does he still have his license. I believe so. Hire him to get you confiscated drug money back. He will. It will cost you.

  5. I remain amazed at the level of expertise of the average Internet Television Executive. Obviously they have all the answers and know the business inside and out.