Ben Haggerty, open sorcerer
Ben Haggarty picks up on the question “where do stories come from?” at roughly the point where David Amram left off on the mystery of where music comes from. David Amram said his music comes from what touched his heart in train whistles and the sounds of his father’s farm, later from the cadences of Jack Kerouac and flights of Dizzy Gillespie. Ben Haggarty’s folk tales come from as far back as the Stone Age. Many of the same stories, he says, turn up in Japan and in Ireland, in Greek mythology and the trenches of World War One. No, Ben says, it doesn’t turn out that there are six basic stories in the world. There are more nearly 6-billion stories, or more likely 6-billion times 6-billion because we each and all tend to hear every story differently. Ben Haggarty has been collaborating with Yo-Yo Ma’s magical Silk Road Project, which reconnects our ears to the ageless music of the trade routes. And this week, the Silk Roadsters and Ben Haggerty are working with students at the Rhode Island School of Design to set both music and stories before bold curtains of fresh, sometimes improvisational images. So here we are in hip, happening Providence, listening in on a rehearsal. Not the least of Ben Haggerty’s tale is the “open source” moral of it all:
I’m against copyright. I’m involved in an interpretive, re-creational art form… These stories belong to everybody, and the reason that they’ve lasted so long, really from the Stone Age to the present day (some of them), is that they contain in them the essence of human experience. That’s what we respond to: the truth, the authenticity of a situation, or the comedy… or the horror… or the pity of a situation. In a sense that is always contemporary. Pain and loss and the joy of retrieval have been going on since human beings have had relationships… It’s not sustainable to create new work all the time — to hold everything, to sell everything… In terms of the riches of art and the imagination, it’s all been done before. What is new is that people haven’t met it before. So when you encounter something for the first time, there’s your newness. There’s nothing wrong with recycling.
Storyteller Ben Haggarty in conversation with Chris Lydon at the Rhode Island School of Design, May 2008
With thanks to Producer Paul McCarthy and to Victoria Chao, Brown Class of 2008.