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The Carbon Copy Building
posted March 6, 2007
Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Ben Katchor
Cantaloupe, Hardcover with CD, January 2007, $19.98
The Carbon Copy Building is the book and CD edition of a well-regarded multi-media collaboration between cartoonist Ben Katchor and the composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe. It has a high concept. Two buildings are constructed from the same blueprints -- one in the good part of town, one in a squirrelly neighborhood. In its original staging -- I believe the show played New York and London -- Katchor's art was projected against walls behind the four-actor, four-musician performance crew. The arc of the show is an extended comparison and contrast of the inhabitants and items found within each building, and the play ends where those elements are brought together.
The book is what will interest most comics fans, and it's pretty damn beautiful all on its own. Katchor's color work makes me want to run to the bookshelves and throw any of his black and white work that I happen to own to the floor and start kicking it. It's that pretty. Katchor employs a number of bold, sumptuous shades of primary colors here, and while it would be tempting to say there was a direct thematic connection unpacked through the use of color, particularly the way the brighter colors stand out against the blues, I'm not convinced that flatters what Katchor actually does here. Beyond being attractive there's something measured, even tactful about the illustrations, with very little of the stand-alone exaggerated movement you sometimes find in his strip work. If the CD were easier to remove from the back-cover sleeve, I might pronounce this my favorite comics-related design in a long, long time. It's still very good.
I'm no music critic and not even much of a music listener, but I found that aspect of Carbon Copy Building
interesting enough to experience with the lyrics in hand a few times and a few more times simply left to run while I ate dinner. If there's any complaint that my crude, untrained ears had is that some of the music seem composed around ideas that didn't flow together as smoothly as the art and text, as if there was a moment when the songwriters thought "It would be cool to have a discordant piece here" and then went ahead and pursued that. At least these weren't connections I was seeing. My gut tells me it's not a transcendent score, and needs the staging or at least Katchor's book in order to cohere.