Experiments with poetry audio: Data as an extension of form and content

Chris Mustazza

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. Michael Nardone will present his thoughts on the critical method of phonotextual analysis. Eric Rettberg will foreground audiences' reactions to poetry readings, information often disregarded as a kind of para-sound (cf paratext). Danny Snelson will discuss his work on the Little Database of poetry audio. Tanya Clement, founder of the HiPSTAS initiative, will discuss the idea of using sound as the parameter of a search query across a poetry audio archive. And while this constellation of works would constitute a formidable series on its own, we will continue to seek out contributions from scholars working in the interstices of sound and poetics. Our hope is that the serial nature of this commentary will allow for both the presentation of new material and an illustration of the evolution of the ideas that begin here. 

Interspersed amongst the series's primary focus on using digital tools to elucidate the performance of poetry will be short pieces on the history of poetry audio. Much of my own work centers on the birth of the poetry audio archive and on the history and materiality of recording media. From time to time, we will post short notes on these topics, including the use of aluminum records in one of the first poetry audio archives and the distribution of paper records of poetry. While these topics are somewhat anciallary to the controlling idea of this series, our intent is to elucidate the inextricable bonds between the materiality of recording media and the construction of audio as data. In other words, we hope to show how any poetry audio analysis exists as a condition of material "texts."

So we hope you will enjoy the posts in this series and that they will provoke further discussion on what is possible with digital audio analysis of poetry. It seems appropriate to conclude this post and commence the Clipping series with one of the first poems to self-referentially engage with the materiality of recording poetry, William Carlos Williams's "The Defective Record." Here's to Clipping serving as a space to level it down for us to build a house on. 

The banner image for this post was created based on this illustration of audio clipping by David Batley and is used under CreativeCommons licensing.