Eric Baus

Notes on PennSound

What is a question?

Image by Eric Baus

This playlist is comprised of recordings related to questions. Bhanu Kapil, in her recent post on Harriet, Notes on Mutation, asks: “What is a question? How do questions work in your writing?  What do they perform?  What happens when you ask them?”  Today’s commentary might be considered an appendix to Kapil’s post, paying particular attention to the relationship between composition strategies, recording technology, and public performance. I’m also interested in grouping these recordings together in a playlist so that the questions from one piece might circulate through the others.

I’ll begin by quoting more from Kapil’s notes: “A question: Literally, it’s a way of gathering information but not of processing it.  As a mode of enquiry that’s also, linguistically, founded on doubt, on not having the words for what happens at the end of a relationship, the question seals space*.” I have excerpted a portion of Kapil’s comments contextualizing her own book of questions, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, from her Kelsey Street Press audio page. At one point in her discussion, Kapil describes the weaving together of the disparate material she has gathered from interviews as well as from her own answers to her questions as “a shared space for voices.”  On PennSound, you can listen to an excerpt from The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers recorded in 1999 at the Left Hand reading series in Boulder.

"Back of"

Index, bibliography, catalog, list

Image by Noah Saterstrom
Image by Noah Saterstrom

This post explores the poem as index, bibliography, catalog, or otherwise arranged list. I want to consider the ways each piece overflows, suggesting threads that the listener might follow or complicating the idea of order under the guise of an ordering structure. I want to pay attention to the ways these recordings open up into the works of other writers and artists in addition to reflecting back upon the concerns of their respective authors.

Hearing spaces

Ambience and audience

image by Noah Saterstrom
Image by Noah Saterstrom

I’m always interested in the physical, digital, and in-between spaces audio recordings document and inhabit. This playlist samples some combinations of various recording environments, paying a bit of attention to often overlooked aspects such as tape hiss and telephone distortion, as well as considering sonic contexts like the classroom and direct-to-digital readings.

Dear PennSound

Listening to letters

image by Noah Saterstrom
(image by Noah Saterstrom)

I’ll begin with a playlist of PennSound recordings having to do with letters. While listening to this playlist on repeat, I was interested in the ways the tracks expanded, derailed, parodied, critiqued, or otherwise complicated the idea of intimate address. The addressees include imagined ancestors, public figures, an owl, various abstractions and inanimate objects, as well as the workings of language itself. Recently I’ve been listening to this playlist on random and I keep noticing new connections and contrasts between tracks.

Sonic thresholds

Transitions and transformations

Image by Noah Saterstrom.

This post’s playlist presents recordings from the PennSound archive that explore the continuum between language, music, and other types of sound.

I want to begin with a few related recordings of Nathaniel Mackey and his ongoing serial poem Song of the Andoumboulou. In Mackey’s introduction to a 1997 KWH reading he discusses the poem’s relationship to the Dogon funeral song of the same name, recorded by Francois Di Dio in 1974. Listen to Mackey’s poem Song of the Andoumboulou: 18. I am always struck by this moment  when, near the end of the Dogon recording, as the pitch from the horn wavers up and down, I hear an ambiguity between what could be perceived as a human shout and the sound of a musical instrument. It’s this type of threshold point that has been in the back of my mind when I listen to poetry recordings lately.