Kurt Vonnegut, Simon Heselev: Tock Tick (1973/2003)

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Kurt Vonnegut, Simon Heselev: Tock Tick (1973/2003)

Kurt Vonnegut seems an unlikely collaborator with a jazz bassist from Melbourne -- but that is what happened in 2003 when the famous author allowed Australian musician and studio engineer Heselev to put music to his '73 reading of a section from his famous book Slaughterhouse Five.

Heselev takes up the story about how, after graduating from Berklee in Boston and doing studio work in LA with the likes of Courtney Love ("an absolute nightmare") he started recording his own music.

He had written a piece of music and was trawling the internet to find some vocals to put with it. He stumbled on Vonnegut reading a passage from Slaughterhouse Five -- the section when the protagonist Billy Pilgrim is watching a war movie on television and imagines time moving backwards, bombs being sucked back into aircraft, bullets being pulled out of bodies by an invisible force and going into the barrels of rifles while the bodies heal themselves.

"It just drew me to it. I hadn't read the book and hadn't even heard of Kurt Vonnegut."

So he wove together his six minutes of orchestral and electronic music with Vonnegut's reading from 1973 and played it to friends, who were impressed. He had never made such a recording, but tried to contact Vonnegut's publishers for permission to use the piece. His calls weren't returned.

However one of Heselev's Boston teachers had a copy and gave it to the writer at a reading. Vonnegut loved it, gave approval for it to be released and even drew the cover art for the CD (entitled Astronomy) -- and provided the title, Tock Tick, which refers to time running backwards.

"Then I happened to be in Philadelphia and was in the neighbourhood so he asked if I'd come by for supper. And so I did and we just hung out and talked. He was a great bloke. He lives in a beautiful old brownstone on East 48th St, a really nice part of town and near a whole bunch of Irish pubs.

"It opened my eyes. I was an engineer and I don't think that's being an artist. Then Kurt rang and called me an artist and I was like, 'Hang on, if Kurt Vonnegut is calling me an artist then maybe I should quit this and go and be an artist properly'.

"So I blame him."

For more oddities, one-offs or songs with a backstory see From the Vaults

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