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"Sleeping in the Trenches."  Brian Turner Performs WWI Musical Composition

With jazz bassist and recording engineer Ben Kramer, and writer/musician Roel Vertov, I helped compose "Sleeping in the Trenches"  as part of Love Songs to the Bombers Flying Overhead, an upcoming album inspired by the experience of war from Roel Vertov and the Retro Legion, an international group of musicians and artists. Flugelhorn, cello, accordion, euphonium, electric and acoustic guitars, glass jars, taiko drums, pedal steel guitar, concertina, mandolin, tuba, trombone, percussion and drums, drone, tenor sax, flutes, serpent, piano, tank drum, djembe, vocals, and, yes, typewriters are among the instruments the group uses to create unique, dynamic blends of sound and voice. "Sleeping in the Trenches" calls upon the flugelhorn, upright bass, baritone, string arrangements, and vocals to create a soundscape/landscape for enriching the conversations on the WWrite Blog. Roel Vertov is also an avid ambient sound recordist, and so he recorded and layered in several versions of rain to help create the soundscape to this piece. I sang the vocals, along with Skip Buhler and Major Jackson. I recommend listening to it before, during, and after reading posts as its significance may amplify an understanding of not only WWI, but of all wars. Even I,  a veteran of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iraq, hear war resonate in new ways each time I listen and perform it.

To demonstrate the way words—and war—work with Roel Vertov and the Retro Legion's musical compositions, I would like to cite the text from another piece, "Sunlight in the Tall Grass," which also comes from Love Songs to the Bombers Flying Overhead. 

Sunlight in the Tall Grass
After the battle,
After the exhausted troops push the lines beyond the far hills,
We're left with these ruined voices in the field,
Cattle grazing among the dead.
The dull light of an afternoon buzzing with flies,
The low drone of honey bees
And that breeze shimmering in the cyprus along the river.
This beautiful and unlivable day.
Sunlight ambers and burns over the blades of grass.
Sunlight turns to gold on the far ridgeline.
Burns its way into the far hills and is gone
And the soldiers in the trenches, do they look back sometimes,
To think of us here,
Those left behind in the tall grass?
The cattle in the field,
The barn on fire,
Here, in this beautiful and unlivable day.

The album, Love Songs to the Bombers Flying Overhead, is also a companion piece to a collection of poetry Vertov is working on entitled My Crush On Soviet Cinema. (Please visit  for more on The Retro Legion.)

Thank you for listening.

Credits for "Sleeping in the Trenches"

String & Horn Arrangements: Ben Kramer and Roel Vertov
Flugelhorn: Brian Turner
Bassist: Ben Kramer Flugelhorn: Roel Vertov
Baritone: Roel Vertov
Vocals: Brian Turner, Skip Buhler, Roel Vertov, Major Jackson
Video preview: ZoneOutTV

Author Bios

 brianturnerphotoBrian Turner is the author of a memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country (W.W. Norton & Company), and two collections of poetry: Here, Bullet (Alice James Books) and Phantom Noise (Alice James Books). These books have been translated into several languages. He also co-edited The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Writing Across Borders (McSweeney’s/ Poetry Foundation). Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the US Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq (2003-2004) and he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 10th Mountain Division (1999-2000). His poetry and essays have been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, Harper’s Magazine, Vulture, the Guardian, Poetry Daily, and other fine journals. Turner was featured in the documentary film Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a USA Hillcrest Fellowship in Literature, an NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry, the Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship, a US-Japan Friendship Commission Fellowship, the Poets’ Prize, and a Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. His work has appeared on National Public Radio, the BBC, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Here and Now, and on Weekend America, among others. He is the Director of the low-residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College.

BrianTurnerBenKramerBen Kramer is a sought-after jazz bassist who has performed with The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Charo, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and many others. Ben is also the director of The Los Angeles Film School’s online Music Production degree. In 2006, he was invited to the Ravinia Young Artists Program to study with jazz legends James Moody and Rufus Reid. Ben graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2007 with two degrees, one in Jazz Performance (from the Peabody Conservatory) and another in Recording Arts and Sciences. You can hear Ben on recordings such as Michael Andrew’s “A Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” Terry Myer’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the debut album from the Orlando Jazz Orchestra.

Insert & upload images/pdf/ppt Roel Vertov is a composer, musician, writer and translator living in Maastricht, The Netherlands, where he also works as a cartographer. His band—Roel Vertov and the Retro Legion—is currently in the studio working on a new album. His stories and poems have appeared in Dutch magazines primarily, with a few in French, German and Italian journals. In English, he has published in Kestrel and Plume. He lives with his wife and daughter in a restored bridge house, along with their pet rabbit—a Flemish Giant named Jet

Zone Out TV logoThe video preview for "Sleeping In The Trenches" is courtesy of ZoneOutTV, a streaming media television channel. ZoneOutTV has over 80 1-hour episodes of videos that help you slow down, relax and enjoy life. The channel has over 180,000 subscribers on ROKU and will soon launch on AppleTV as well.