An Examination of 5 Performance-Enhanced Books

For certain sensibilities, editions that blur disciplines make more sense than one might think. Enthusiasts of the comprehensive cinematic sets released by the Criterion Collection, for instance, have found books beside their DVDs. So, is there a significant divide between the desire to see the director’s cut of a film and the desire to read alternate versions of Carver’s fiction in the Library of America-published Collected Stories?

In recent years, the pros and cons of print and digital editions of books have sparked more than a few debates, with each side boasting its own set of passionate advocates and agitated detractors. What follows will not address that argument. (At least, not directly.) Instead, we’re taking a look at books that are, in some way, enhanced — editions packaged with a complementary object that supplements the words printed between the covers, enhances the author’s themes, or provides a valuable point of reference for the work.

Below a surreal black-and-white illustration of a crowded landscape on the cover of Empty the Sun come two lines. First, A novel by Joseph Mattson. Below that, Music by Six Organs of Admittance. Mattson’s novel begins with its narrator, an alcoholic former guitarist, driving through Los Angeles with a corpse in the trunk of his car, running from (or possibly towards) an apocalyptic vision. The music, composed by Ben Chasny, mirrors the novel’s shifts in tone, from fear and awe of the divine to a desire to savage it.

Empty the Sun is divided into two parts: its first half covers the narrator’s progression towards the Pacific coast, as he flashes back on the circumstances that caused him to to abandon his pursuit of something like a holy state through the making of music. (The loss of a finger to a pair of corrupt cops didn’t help.) As California is left behind for a cross-country trek to Michigan, the novel’s second half shifts into more Gothic territory. The visions and revenants are more domestic in nature, and the same God who initially imparted the narrator with visions of a doomed landscape returns on a smaller scale: a deity that can be brought low, and stung by bullets.

The choice of musical collaborators seems apt. Mattson’s narrator here, much like Six Organs mainstay Ben Chasny, is fond of pursuing transcendence via the acoustic guitar; like the narrator, Chasny blends a knowledge of traditional styles with a furiously modern sensibility, yet also spends time with like-minded musicians working in entirely different styles. The Six Organs… soundtrack here is intimately expansive, mirroring the narrator’s travel through landscapes both physical and spiritual. And this may not be the last way these two elements combine — publisher Barnacle Books lists an audiobook version, juxtaposing Chasny’s music with Super-8 footage, as forthcoming.