Bob Cobbing (1920–2002) — sound poet, visual and concrete poet, DIY printer, and active member of an alternative socio-poetic community in the UK — insisted that there’s no use in adding to poetry what’s already there. In “Some Statements on Sound Poetry” (1969) he wrote: “Gone is the word as the word, though the word may still be used as sound or shape.” And he added: “Poetry now resides in other elements.” In this episode, Al Filreis is joined by sound poet Jaap Blonk, phonotextualist Steve McLaughlin, and experimental archivist Danny Snelson as they approach a single work by Cobbing, “Portrait of Robin Crozier,” in an effort to identify generally those “other elements.”
Robert Sheppard contributed this piece to Jacketissue 9 to mark the occasion of Bob Cobbing's 75th birthday:
I visited Bob Cobbing, and thus met my first poet, on November 3 1973. I was still at school, keen to put on an exhibition of concrete poetry. I recognised this as the wilder edge of the new British poetry I had discovered through Horovitz' anthology Children of Albion and Bill Butler's Brighton bookshop. In the school library there was, unaccountably, Emmett Williams' An Anthology of Concrete Poetry. Bob was in it.
When I arrived at Randolph Avenue to collect some hansjörg mayer posters, Bob was already talking to a student who was writing a thesis on language in visual art. I listened as they talked and sounded some of the Shakespeare Kaku. I remained mute, uncertain. Bob played a tape of himself and Peter Finch performing e colony from the Five Vowels, a then incomplete project. He showed us the work in progress. I stayed for six hours literally learning the life of a poet.
Like Place’s iterations of Gone with the Wind,Jonathan Stalling’s Yíngēlìshī 吟歌丽诗 also takes as its impetus the copying of another text and also addresses racial stereotyping and the negative attitude toward accents and dialects of English that differ from enforced norms. In Yíngēlìshī , Stalling appropriates an English phrasebook for Chinese speakers. The phrasebook uses standard characters for representing English speech. These characters are not meaningless but their use is conventionalized and in this context they are meant simply to stand for the English sounds––their meaning in Chinese is considered irrelevant. Stalling reproduces the Chinese and English from the phrasebook.
Charlie Morrow visited the Kelly Writers House recently and gave a packed house quite a performance. As usual, of course, he got us involved in making meaning of “mere” sound. The program is further described here. Soon — but not yet — links to both the audio and video recordings will be available at that page and also at PennSound.
This is Part III of a four-part essay that appears in Portuguese in Deslocamentos Críticos (Lisbon: Babel; São Paulo, Itaú Cultural, 2011) under the title "Obra Sonora Poética: 1980-2010." Read Part I here and Part II here.
Brazilian Poetic Sound Work: 1980-2010
“Barulho”’s suggestion of the physicality of poetry through both its sound and sense resonates anew in the “cross-platform” work of Ricardo Aleixo. In Gullar, sound functions within Poundian melopoeia, plucking noises, rhythm, and melodies out of printed words via poetic devices including rhyme, assonance, and alliteration (even as it reaches to involve the body of the reader through the idea of breath). Aleixo’s poetry combines these devices with sonic devices in means and media beyond the realm of the printed page. His most important medium may be his own performing body and voice. Through performance, he actualizes the movement, voice, lyric self, and voice-body-sound relationship that Gullar’s poem evokes.
Last year, I wrote an essay on sound in contemporary Brazilian poetry that was published in Portuguese in Deslocamentos Críticos (Lisbon: Babel; São Paulo, Itaú Cultural, 2011). I am glad to share the English version of the essay here over the next several posts. My great thanks to Rumos Literatura do Itaú Cultural, the literary criticism program of Itaú Cultural, for their support of this research.
Brazilian Poetic Sound Work: 1980-2010
In the course of performing Um Ano Entre Os Humanos, poet Ricardo Aleixo (b. 1960) recites and sings.1 He plays guitar and bits of hardware. He dj’s from a laptop. Some of these sounds are scripted; others, improvised. All complement the visual aspects of the performance, which include video, a simple set of a chair and table holding just the laptop, a microphone, and percussion instruments, and Aleixo and his co-performer’s both choreographed and spontaneous movements. Sound contrasts, however, with the piece’s most striking visual symbol: the poemanto, a large black cloth emblazoned with white letters that Aleixo wraps himself in and animates for part of the performance, and that appears in a video that plays for part of the piece.
What would it sound like if you compressed all the Beatles UK LPs into a single one-hour mp3? The compression rate would have to be 800%. Conceiving of this as sound art, Steve McLaughlin did just that a few years ago. It’s posted to the WFMU web site. So go here, settle in, and hear nearly everything the Beatles released in one hour. There's a certain strange hepped-up beauty to it, I have to say. It's like a super-fast running of my youth, an aural brain chute. Someone at WFMU then decided to un-compress several of the singles. So at the same site you can click on links to mp3s of “Julia,” “I Will,” and “Revolution” back at normal speed but eerily distorted from having been through the first compression.
For most of us, our first act in life is a speech act. We are born, we inhale, and then some of us sneeze, but most of us scream. For the next few months we make sounds, which we’re repeatedly told are letters. Somehow a song called The Alphabet gets stuck in our head. We can’t stop humming it. Eventually someone hands us a pen.
Viennese poet, programmer, performer, musician, composer, lecturer and researcher Jörg Piringer works operate in the moments human voice, machine language and letter forms meet.
Piringer uses his voice as an interface and as a medium. In his electronic visual sound poetry performance frikativ, Piringer generates visual sound poetry in real-time by speaking and vocalizing into a microphone. Fricatives are audible frictions, consonant sounds produced by forcing breath through a narrow, constricted, or partially obstructed channel. In frikativ, the channel of the vocal tract is appended to that of the microphone, which is further extended by cables to a computer wherein live and pre-recorded voice sounds are modified through signal processors and samplers. Piringer’s custom software then analyzes these sounds to create animated abstract visual text-compositions.
Through a long, ongoing, iterative, and intrinsically performative writing process, Piringer has created a massive custom-written computer program with which he builds his performance works. Similar to the way one game engine can be used to create a wide range of different games, Piringer can now drawn on his own code base to create new behavioural logic sets for each new performance.
PennSound's Maggie O'Sullivan page includes a recording of a discussion with Penn students in Charles Bernstein's "studio 111" seminar. Michael Nardone has transcribed the session now and here is a portion:
PENN STUDENT: Thank you for your close reading, Ms. O’Sullivan. I was wondering if you could describe the relationship between performing your work and writing it.
O’SULLIVAN: Well, it depends on, every situation is different. Performing it is another opportunity to re-engage with the text at different levels, and another opportunity to negotiate the text on the page.
As you’ve probably heard, I often find my work is quite difficult for me to read from the page. Writing it, I hear the sounds often in my ear. But having to perform it, all the difficulties emerge. There’s lots of disconnectiveness and disjunctiveness that is kind of working against how I sort of, how sometimes it seems it may be read.
PENN STUDENT: Would you consider, sort of, maybe, performing it to be more body intensive than, I guess, writing it.
O’SULLIVAN: Well, writing is a body-intensive activity, totally. Absolutely, totally. The whole body is engaged in the act of writing. Whether it’s on the computer, with using a pen in the hands. The breath is involved in all activities. But with the performing, there are others that you have to connect with, and the place of performing also figures on it.
PENN STUDENT: A number of your poems integrate different languages, musical notes, pictures, and streaks, and they push the possibilities of poetic forms on the page. I was wondering whether this is supposed to conflict with the words, compliment them, or maybe even both.
O’SULLIVAN: The words working as part of all this kind of radical shifting—
At the recent gathering on conceptual poetry in Tucson, Tracie Morris performed a piece based on a single sentence she heard spoken in a stentorian, didactic-pedagogical "Afro-Shakespearean voice" - "It all started when we were brought here as slaves from Africa." She creates a sound poem of the line in her unique way of singing-uttering. You can watch a video of the whole reading at which this piece is the final performance. Better yet, listen to the audio-only mp3 I created from the video, which is now linked to Tracie Morris's PennSound page.