sound studies

Olson, tape, noise

John Melillo

The tape recorder, implies Olson, makes a demand that is contiguous with the audience at the reading. It calls for the reading to become a performance, like a “concert or something.” This problem seems ironic coming from Olson, who described projective verse as a return to the possibilities of the voice and orality. I would like to take Olson’s question — and his anxiety — seriously in order to argue that it embeds both a threat to and an unacknowledged affinity with his poetics.

In response to a request to record his reading at Goddard College on April 12, 1959 (made available by the Slought Foundation and PennSound), Charles Olson quipped about the apparatus in front of him: “What happens if it just goes on and I don’t say anything?”

[audio: Charles Olson at Goddard]

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.

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