Now that the Internet has killed our attention spans, it can be challenging to read a book. But what if the book were short? And there was a soundtrack to it? And an accompanying film and graphic novel?
A new project called The Red Bicycle — centered around a nine-chapter novella by Weekly scribe Kai Flanders — has all of these components. And, we may be biased, but it's also really good. Flanders read from the book last night at Stories in Echo Park, and played some of its music as well.
James Watson of L.A.'s Small Smile Record Collective acted as musical director. The soundtrack is full of relevant young, local groups, many of which prowl the eastside, including Gothic Tropic, Criminal Hygiene, Sam Broido and Gracie. (Our editor Ben particularly dug the Criminal Hygiene track “Pickman,” which you can hear below and is meant to be played while reading a scene from the book in which the plane carrying the protagonist is about to crash.)
Flanders, a Hermosa Beach native, is currently undertaking an MFA in fiction at Columbia University in New York, but brought the project together while home for the summer. The book tells the story of, you guessed it, a red bicycle, and after it was done Watson assigned one chapter each to nine local acts, mostly from his network of friends in Echo Park.
Artists were asked to write a track inspired by their chapter, although instructions beyond that were loose. Some contributions are literal, like Criminal Hygiene's, while Sam Broido's is more of an amorphous gentle ukulele-based track, and Watson's is a chilled out electronic composition.
Each song lasts four to ten minutes, approximately the length of time it takes to read the accompanying chapter. A chapter that wasn't working as text was turned into a graphic novel by artist Kat Glasheeb. Here, you can peep the first chapter and song.
“It's meant to drive people back to reading,” says Flanders. “Mixed media in literature is the future.”
Flanders says the 20 or so people involved in the project were more inspired by music distribution models like Brainfeeder than by traditional publishing. One advantage is that it allows for easy and expanded cross-marketing. Think of it like Oprah's Book Club for indie kids. “We have 20 people promoting it instead of one,” Flanders says.
Excitingly, the collaborative concept is also scaleable. “Imagine,” Flanders says, “Flying Lotus doing the soundtrack to the next Thomas Pynchon book.”
We'd read that.
The Red Bicycle is available online, at Echo Park's Stories bookstore and other bookstores throughout Los Angeles. Purchase includes a digital download of the album.