It may seem odd that this commentary takes its name from a type of audio distortion, anathema to recording engineers who seek to capture crystalline representations of the human speaking voice. But just as all clear audio recordings must begin by having their levels set, so too must cutting-edge, experimental scholarship, which is what Clipping aims to present: inchoate working ideas on digital analyses of poetry audio. Rather than working to create a polished product off the record, as it were, we aim to publish brief working essays that the community can see and help to refine. As such, we hope to serve as a public platform and an incubator for experimental digital analyses of poetry.
In the coming months we will present a series of exciting posts by scholars working in the field of poetry audio. Ken Sherwood will explore visualizing poetry with special reference to audio versioning.
Working with our PennSound audio files, Jhave Johnston has created a prototype mashup machine that enables on overlay of poets’ sounds, with an option to turn on WEAVE, which senses silence (e.g. between lines or stanzas in a performance) and automatically intercuts from one short file segment to another, creating a flow of shifting voices. “I always figured,” says Charles Bernstein, my co-director at PennSound, “that once we had a substantial archive of sound files, the next phase would be for people to use them in novel ways.” “Reminds me,” says Michael S. Hennessey, PennSound’s editor, “of one of my favorite things to do with the site before we switched to the current streaming codec, which doesn't allow for simultaneous play: pull up a few author pages — best of all Christian Bök — and start layering tracks over his cyborg opera beatboxing.” Jhave adds: “My motivation for building it is similar to Michael's: a joy in listening to things overlap.”
After months--several years--of digitizing, consulting, traveling, etc., we at PennSound are now ready to make available the recordings of Wallace Stevens reading his own poetry. We begin our new Stevens author page with two readings he gave at Harvard near the end of his life. Our friends at the Woodberry Poetry Room at Lamont Library (though organizationally Woodberry now is part of the Houghton Library system) have shared these with us. Peter Hanchak--only child of Holly Stevens who was the only child of Wallace and Elsie Stevens--has given us at PennSound permission to make available whatever Stevens recordings we can find. I'm personally very grateful to Peter, who clearly understands that PennSound is all about noncommercial, educational use. Thanks to Joan Richardson and John Serio who helped me work with Peter on this; and thanks to Christina Davis, new director at the Woodberry, and Don Share, former director there, for their help and advice as we've moved forward. It's our hope, of course, that the way Stevens is taught will at least somewhat change now that his own way of reading the poems is widely and freely available. Long live open access!