Though recently implying that he's tapped out musically, Sufjan Stevens has never created something as pointedly ambitious as The BQE. Originally commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a 2007 performance, as a take-home release The BQE consists of an uncompromising essay ostensibly all about the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, a visually stunning film, a stirring orchestral soundtrack, a stereoscopic View-Master reel, and, in limited edition, a 40-page comic book about characters known as the Hooper Heroes.
"It's very comical and whimsical and constantly moving," Stevens says of the film and its score. "The instruments kinda become like cartoon voices. I wonder if it's maybe just from listening to Peter and the Wolf or Fantasia or whatever. There's something very animated about it. It's also because a lot of the footage is stop-animation or time-lapse. The music is meant to augment that."
A provocative sensory overload, the project contains the pageantry and fascination with human ingenuity that Stevens often explores but, as his essay articulates, it's also fuelled by an unexpected rage. "The expressway, the automobile ― it's obvious now that these are contributing to our decline; the death and destruction of the natural world," he explains.
In a sense, the forlorn big picture notions and epic scale of The BQE have deeply affected Stevens' general state of mind. "I don't really have as much faith in my work as I used to," he admits. "But I think that's healthy; I think it's allowed me to be less precious about how I work and write. And maybe it's okay for us to take it less seriously. I believe things are gonna change for the better but I think they'll get a lot worse first."