It’s November 2007, and I’m at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, about to see Sufjan Stevens’s premier of The BQE. The stage in front of me breathes discomfort on the audience, becoming more and more crowded as the band members file in, their instruments only inches apart. Add to this a backdrop of a large film screen, soon to be displaying images of one of the nations’ busiest expressways — one that connects the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. It is hardly a scene that seems it would lead to a pleasing experience, yet the excitement among the audience feels heavy like the brass instruments before us. It has been four years since Michigan, two since Illinois and nothing came of the “Majesty Snowbird” single on Mr. Stevens’ last tour. We are like a pack of indie-rock starved wolves in the middle of Fort Greene, and times are getting desperate. The lights dim, the stage is set and our Brooklyn hero enters the room — Sufjan, our much-revered provider of musical nourishment and orchestral movements in the dark.

Having been at The BQE premiere (and having paid six times face value for a ticket to attend) you may or may not consider my response to The Michigan Daily’s review of the release biased. But labeling the project “a wonky mess” deserves a reaction (Sufjan’s winding road: ‘The BQE’, 10/25/2009). Yes, it is true the project was ambitious and seemingly too big a concept to fit into a 40-minute multimedia experience, but if the goal was to convey the chaos of New York City traffic (“Movement IV: Traffic Shock”), the qualms of city planning (“Movement V: Self-Organizing Emergent Patterns”) and evoke the feelings of solitude (“Postlude: Critical Mass”), peace (“Movement II: Sleeping Invader”) and occasional self-realization (“Movement I: In the Countenance of Kings”) commuters experience in their vehicles, then The BQE is more than successful. The feelings of disconnection and awkwardness in both the footage and music, I believe, is exactly what Mr. Stevens was hoping would emerge from the project.

When it comes to criticism of The BQE, I think Mr. Stevens is a victim of his own successful, pop-albumy past. And it’s no surprise, as music fans (myself included) are growing ever more eager for a Michigan and Illinoise follow-up. But stepping outside the norm and picking up such an ambitious and unique project is why he continues to be one of the greatest musicians of our generation.

Michelle Yu
Public Policy graduate student

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