"…all around me and above me as far as the sky, the heavy, composite, muffled roar of torrents of machines, hard wheels obstinately turning, grinding, groaning, always on the point of breaking down but never breaking down."
— Louis-Ferdinand Céline, from Journey to the End of the Night
I first fell in love with Detroit while on tour with my band, Victoire, in 2010. When I returned home to New York I dove into early Detroit techno from the late eighties, Céline’s novel Journey to the End of the Night
and early 20th century photographs by Charles Sheeler, who documented Detroit’s River Rouge Plant in 1927 through a beautiful, angular photo series. In my research I was struck by how often the landscape of Detroit inspired a kind of religious awe, with writers from every decade of the last century comparing the city’s factories to cathedrals and altars, and Vanity Fair even dubbing Detroit “America’s Mecca” in 1928. In Mark Binelli’s recent book Detroit City Is the Place to Be
, he even describes a particular Sheeler photograph, Criss-Crossed Conveyors, as evoking “neither grit nor noise but instead an almost tabernacular grace. The smokestacks in the background look like the pipes of a massive church organ, the titular conveyor belts forming the shape of what is unmistakably a giant cross.” This image, of the River Rouge Plant as a massive pipe organ, was the initial inspiration for River Rouge Transfiguration
. This is music about the transformation of grit and noise (here represented by the percussion, piano, harp and pizzicato strings) into something massive, resonant and unexpected. The “grit” is again and again folded into string and brass chorales that collide with each other, collapse, and rise over and over again.
River Rouge Transfiguration
was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony in honor of Elaine Lebenbom. Thank you to the Detroit Symphony, Leonard Slatkin, Erik Ronmark, Rebecca Zook, Farnoosh Fathi, Katy Tucker and Mark Binelli.
— Missy Mazzoli