Posts Tagged ‘performance poetry’

Interpretive Dance, Squared, and Cross-Patched

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Maybe you’ve seen a poet performing a poem while an interpretive dancer performs alongside them, interpreting the words into motion. Now picture two interpretive dancers who are also poets. Each person voices their own poem while interpretive dancing the other person’s poem. Like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, only much, much harder. Makes my brain hurt just thinking about it.

Notes Towards Poems Written with Recording in Mind

Monday, May 12th, 2008

I’ve been listening to a wide range of sound work for a couple of years, from the most experimental to the most basic. One thing I noticed is that there is a large expanse of territory that is not being mapped by people. On one border there are poets who are taking what are basically page-poems and recording themselves reading them. On the other border are sound poets who are working with pure sound at the syllable/phoneme and even completely non-lexical non-verbal levels (grunts and screeches and moans and whimpers oh my!). The territory that is in between these two extremes is both rich, varied, (I think) thrilling to consider, and, is surprisingly vacant. There aren’t very many talented poets doing experimental work with sound (some, not many). There are poets doing sound work, but it’s very conservative—straight voice recordings. There are experiments being done, but, it’s more pure theoretical experimentation than something connected with poetry. This is not bad, I think both groups are doing useful work, but, what I want to see and do is make some excursions into audio augmentation of poetry and into writing poetry specifically to leverage the possibilities of sound performance. I want the best of both worlds.

My first efforts involved weaving and simultaneity (because I’d been working with those on the page and so was really doing audio interpretations of visual tropes). This got me thinking about the full range of affects that are possible. Here’s a few, in no particular order, with some brief notes to sketch out what I mean by each. These are not discrete classifications; I think many aspects of sound work are shades of these in combination. Many are also admittedly similar, this is just a quick brainstormed list that I’m tossing out here so there’s a kind of vocabulary in place to talk about where my current interests are.

Layers—having multiple levels of sound going on. Can be many voices, voices and sound effects, same voice on an additional track to add depth, etc. I am hugely interested in doing things with as many layers as possible. Like Brian Wilson’s arrangements on the album Smile.

Choral—the specific effect of many voices in different tonal registers, in harmony our out of harmony. Layers of voices.

Simultaneity—when things happen at the same time. So far, my experience with your work has seen augmentive simultaneity (voices at the same time saying the same thing in different deliveries to add to the overall effect). My work has shown some narrative simultaneity where different lexical streams are run at the same time, so far they’ve usually been supportive more than augmentive of each other. I am very interested in doing work where the simultaneous elements are more radically augmentive. I’d like to write some pieces that augment through shaded semantic broadening in addition to emphasis adding restatement. Or, to say it more plainly, in addition to voices repeating a word in time with the main line reading I’d like to have fireworks of words not in the main line that burst and crackle in appropriate places (eventually maybe everywhere, throughout).

Emphasis—any effect (repetition, layer, etc.) that serves to direct attention to a specific point.

Augmentation—this means, to me, things that are additive. Multiple intonations of the same phrase augment each other. They add to the sum total. The word means all the things at once.

Multiple voices—refers both to literally more than one person’s voice as well as altered versions of the same voice, or even unaltered versions of multiple instances of the same voice.

Cumulative—a way to talk about the end result of complex layerings. For example, if a phrase were read by multiple voices in a variety of ways we might say that the cumulative effect of the various readings was pitched towards the angry, or the manic, even though some, most, or all of the individual layers don’t exhibit that effect. Another sense is that multiple layers of voices have a cumulative choral effect.

Alteration—one point at which the studio and the technology become an instrument in the performance. Altering is when something is done to the voice or the recording that is not present in the original. Raising the pitch, speeding it up, adding reverb, even looping would qualify, really. All post-production, too, for the most part.

Affectation—this is what the voice can do with stage direction and actorly talent, it can do an affected reading that is augmentive or oppositional to the main line, among other things.

Spatiality—mixing technology can place any given voice or effect within a fairly precise physical location in the audio space of the listener. Left/right, front/back, and everything in between, including motion through that space. I really want to explore this aspect.

Sound Effects—not voice things. Think radio plays, or, the whoosh sounds recorded from the fan.

Looping—taking any segment and repeating it at regular or irregular intervals.

Character Dialog—one interesting aspect of multiple voices and layers is the possibility for character dialog in a theatric fashion (or some other fashion). This is the boundary between experimental theater and experimental sound poetry.

Weaving—taking multiple threads of logic, textstream, semantic content, voices, whatever and running them concurrently. If no attempt is made to modulate which of the multiples is forefront the audience will attempt to do it on their own (with varying degrees of successs).

Opposing/Contrasting—the corollary to the augmentive, these are elements which oppose or contrast the main line in some way. If the main line says “yes, yes, yes” then a faraway “nooooo” would be a contrasting element. A cluster of faraway and approaching “nooooo”s might have the cumulative effect of actually semantically overpowering the main line.

What aspects have I missed? Many, I’m sure.

I am interested in doing pieces that are deeply layered and explore the possibilities of modulating poetic meaning by various effects and affectations through complex arrangements in time and space of augmentive and opposing semantic clusters that eventually so completely subvert the main line that time becomes the only real line.

I want poems that are like fireworks where word clusters burst in audiospace to form new, more complex, semantic units (two-dimensionally impossible “words”) that can be connected together by the line of time into lines, stanzas and poems that articulate the fullness of expression poetry has been trying to achieve all along.

I want to take the next step and be writing poems to take advantage of the new set of tropes studio recording with the help of like-minded others makes available.

I want to make poems that make people slip off their headphones, out of breath, disoriented, and muttering to anyone who’ll listen “now that’s a goddamned poem.”