Retro arts: Arthur fuses tune and tome in 'Heart'

Leave it to a guy who spent his youth in Charlottesville to find a way to bring new life to two art forms most critics have written off as unpopular or dying: the concept album and the American literary novel.

Imagine reading a book about young artists who encounter the likes of hip-hop sensation Aesop Rock, singer-songwriter and pianist Rachel Yamagata, and a former member of the Hackensaw Boys. With the click of the button, one can listen firsthand to new musical collaborations between fictional characters and these real life artists. Did we mention it’s all set against the backdrop of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia?

That’s exactly what Ben Arthur has created, in his newest project If You Look For My Heart: twelve tracks of music and a novel of the same name, which will also be joined together in ebook form for Kindle, Nook, and iPad. 

Though now a resident of New York City, the thirty-nine year-old Harrisonburg native has deep roots in Charlottesville. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Arthur studied music, anthropology, business, and poetry as an interdisciplinary Echols Scholar. He became a familiar name playing his singer-songwriter standards in the music venues and coffee shops around town, and established long-lasting connections with other local musicians. Bobby St. Ours, a former and founding member of the Hackensaw Boys, who plays with Arthur on the new record, will also join him in person for Arthur's first Charlottesville show since 2008, on September 19 at The Garage. 

If You Look For My Heart is Arthur’s sixth album and second novel, but with this new work, the seasoned singer-songwriter who’s shared the stage with the likes of Dave Matthews and Tori Amos takes us into some seriously new territory: a unified literary and musical experience, where the music shapes the plot of the novel, and the narrative of the novel shapes the substance of the music. (Though both components will be released in standard format and can stand alone, the ebook version will allow the consumer to read and listen in one fully integrated platform).

"This is a new art form," says Arthur. "Technology is allowing us to do things we’ve never done before.”

In this era of instant downloads and function over form, Arthur is trying to revive a kind of artistic consumption that prizes storytelling and narrative journey over flashiness and efficiency, while using the latest technology.

 “When we brought the two pieces together," says Arthur, "it was a fascinating and scary process."

Despite the fear and complexity of putting it all together, Arthur says he embraces the project’s risky nature.

“If I’m off balance and afraid I’m gonna fall on my face,” he says, laughing, “then I know I’m doing something worth doing.”

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...and first host for Baja Bean's open mic. series!!!...