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An icon of American literature, the novelist Henry James is remembered for the sophisticated stiffness and lifelessness of his numerous character portraits of the grand bourgeoisie. The literary techniques of his novels were to exert a decisive influence on authors of the stature of James Joyce, Franz Kafka and Joseph Conrad. Many consider his detailed psychological studies to have laid the foundations for the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique that became overwhelmingly influential for the literature of the 20th century.
One of Henry James’ most famous works, the novel ‘The Turn of the Screw’, dealt with themes of the occult, morality and catholic guilt and became the inspiration for an opera by Benjamin Britten, as well as it served as a blueprint for numerous film productions such as ‘The Innocents’, directed by Jack Clayton in 1961.
The composer and performer Tetsuo Furudate saw Clayton’s film for the first and last time around 40 years ago. His acoustic noise sound melodrama ‘The Turn of the Screw’ makes references to both the film and his reading of James’ novel.
Furudate began his artistic career in experimental film and video art in 1981. From the mid-1980s on, he shifted towards performance art and music, and along with Merzbow, he was among the pioneers of Japan’s noise music scene.
Furudate’s memories of seeing ‘The Innocents’ over 40 years ago are naturally rather fragmentary. However, on reading Henry James’ text, a number of images flashed back to him. In all probability, these were new, different images unconnected with the film, but quite possibly included some of the originals, too. Furudate therefore makes an explicit reference to the novel’s compositional form, one that permits a multiplicity of interpretations, without judging whether the events depicted in the novel actually took place or were merely a figment of the protagonist’s imaginative world.
Furudate’s ‘Monodrama’ is an acoustic conspiracy on this theme, using his images and imagination. As Henry James’ text is recited, Furudate attempts to free himself from these vague and diffuse cinematic images with associated cascades of noise and sound. A suitable counterpoint to Furudate’s ideas is probably expressed by a popular and often quoted phrase from Henry James’ classic essay ‘The Art of Fiction’, published in 1885, in which he writes: