phonotextuality

Introducing simple open-source tools for performative speech analysis: Gentle and Drift

Marit MacArthur

When we listen to a poetry reading — recorded or live — we constantly, half-consciously assess how well the poet captures and keeps our attention. I do not need to tell poets, and those who study poetry, that the words of a poem are only half of the equation, sometimes less. Pitch and pitch range, intonation patterns, volume/intensity, speaking rate/tempo, rhythm,  stress/emphasis, vocal timbre — such paralinguistic features affect our experience and interpretation of a performed poem. I say performed, rather than read, because every poetry reading is a performance — even if Poets & Writers’ Funding for Readings & Workshops application would have us think otherwise. Among paralinguistic features, intonation patterns — the rise and fall of vocal pitch — interest poets a great deal. The poetics of Robert Frost, for one, hinge on the “tone of meaning … without the words” (“Never Again Would Bird’s Song Be the Same”). 

When we listen to a poetry reading — recorded or live — we constantly, half-consciously assess how well the poet captures and keeps our attention. I do not need to tell poets, and those who study poetry, that the words of a poem are only half of the equation, sometimes less. Pitch and pitch range, intonation patterns, volume/intensity, speaking rate/tempo, rhythm,  stress/emphasis, vocal timbre — such paralinguistic features affect our experience and interpretation of a performed poem.

The phonotextual braid

First reflections & preliminary definitions

Penelope at her loom

The notes that I’ll be contributing to this space over the next few months will be devoted to the Penelope-like task of weaving and unweaving what I call “the phonotextual braid,” that intertwining of timbre, text, and technology that presents itself to us when we attend to recorded poetry.

My objectives are to distill some of the thinking I and others have done on the topic, especially in the years since the launch of PennSound, to test some of the hypotheses and habits that have guided that inquiry to date, and to wonder aloud about the directions phonotextual studies might productively take in the near future. I also have in mind to share some real-time reading notes on a recent double issue of the journal differences devoted to “The Sense of Sound” and to poke around in the sonic archive of the 1980s in advance of a conference that my colleagues at the National Poetry Foundation and I will be hosting this summer.

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