It’s not a collection of new material. Entirely. Some time ago, Bryce Dessner approached Stevens about re-arranging his 2001 electronic song cycle Enjoy Your Rabbit for the New York string quartet Osso, who contributed string arrangements to Illinois and My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me the Workhorse. Stevens was into the idea, Dessner commissioned them for his Music Now Festival, and over the next year various New York-based composers (Michael Atkinson, Olivier Manchon, Maxim Moston, Nico Muhly, and Gabriel Kahane) went to work reinterpreting the Enjoy tracks. (As those familiar with Enjoy know, the songs are based on the animals in the Chinese Zodiac. So, no, Run Rabbit Run is not about John Updike.) The pieces premiered in April 2007 at Music Now in Cincinnati. After that, the decision was made to release them as a single collection. The thematic cover art’s by Bryce and Aaron Dessner’s older sister, Jessica. She based her art on Matt Morgan’s Enjoy Your Rabbit illustrations There’s an interesting story behind the collection, so take a look at the pretty picture and then dig into the text.
The tale, told by Jessica Dessner:
Sufjan suggested I do artwork for this new album that he’d started work on Run, Rabbit, Run – drawings that, like the re-arranged music, would flower from the outlines and ideas suggested by the originals.
Now, Sufjan is a very formal person, so we set a date for the official kick-off meeting. At the appointed hour, I heard a light rapping on my door. I went to answer it, wondering why so quiet? Why no doorbell? Sufjan stood there, and he said to me in his quietest voice, ‘There’s a rabbit in your yard,’ like it’s some set up, like this is some joke.
But there it is, this beautiful black and white bunny, twitching and lost and afraid and unsure exactly what was going on and how he ended up under this big bush on a lawn in this big city. We scrambled to catch him, and once we did, and we put it in a box out in our backyard.
Now Sufjan had brought this ornate list of what needs to be done in the drawings and we tried our best to get through it: ‘Of course, a tiger and a tortoise and a butterfly.’ ‘Yes, sure the snake could use a scorpion and some pomegranate.’ ‘Definitely water dragons would enjoy grapes.’
It was hard to do this with a straight face, and all we could think of is this rabbit in the back of the house, and all of a sudden for no particular reason we found ourselves calling Shara to tell her.
‘Did you guys know I’d been keeping rabbits lately,’ she said. ‘Thank you for finding my new rabbit.’
As the story goes, the rabbit, Fontoof, currently lives in Detroit. Run Rabbit Run’s tracklist:
01 “Year of the Ox” (Arranged by Michael Atkinson)
02 “Enjoy Your Rabbit” (Arranged by Michael Atkinson)
03 “Year of the Monkey” (Arranged by Michael Atkinson)
04 “Year of the Tiger” (Arranged by Rob Moose)
05 “Year of the Dragon” (Arranged by Nico Muhly)
06 “Year of the Snake” (Arranged by Olivier Manchon)
07 “Year of the Horse” (Arranged by Rob Moose)
08 “Year of the Sheep” (Arranged by Maxim Moston)
09 “Year of the Rat” (Arranged by Olivier Manchon)
10 “Year of the Rooster” (Arranged by Gabriel Kahane)
11 “Year of the Dog” (Arranged by Rob Moose)
12 “Year of the Boar” (Arranged by Michael Atkinson)
13 “Year of Our Lord” (Arranged by Michael Atkinson)
Run Rabbit Run is out 10/6 via Asthmatic Kitty.