I was flattered and thrilled to be asked by Jem Cohen to read the words of James Agee during Jem’s Gravity Hill Sound and Image performance last night at Big Ears. Reading those words in Agee’s hometown, in the Bijou Theater that he no doubt frequented as a kid, was a privilege and one of the highlights of my professional life so far. Musicians taking part were Jim White and George Xylouris, T. Griffin and Catherine McRae, Jessica Moss, Guy Picciotto, Matana Roberts, and Mira Billotte. Much gratitude to Jem. Here’s what he had me read:
The noise of the locust is dry, and it seems not to be rasped or vibrated but urged from him as if through a small orifice by a breath that can never give out. Also there is never one locust but an illusion of at least a thousand. The noise of each locust is pitched in some classic locust range out of which none of them varies more than two full tones: and yet you seem to hear each locust discrete from all the rest, and there is a long, slow, pulse in their noise, like the scarcely defined arch of a long and high set bridge. They are all around in every tree, so that the noise seems to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, from the whole shell heaven, shivering in your flesh and teasing your eardrums, the boldest of all the sounds of night. And yet it is habitual to summer nights, and is of the great order of noises, like the noises of the sea and of the blood her precocious grandchild, which you realize you are hearing only when you catch yourself listening.