Calling

This post responds to Michael Myshack’s post ‘What is this Called?’

Firstly, yes, I agree with Michael’s calling my label ‘digitally produced audio poetry’ long-winded. That label is a kind of ‘anti-poetic’, technical-information-conveyor, and made purposefully so, because at the moment so many poets haven’t even heard any of this kind of stuff, and so I wanted a description that would describe to those wholly uninitiated what it is I’m trying to interest them in. It would be splendid if at some point in the future this (perhaps ugly) technical-information-download-of-a-label mouthful could become transmogrified: re-breathed out through a few smooth gasps into something poetically compressed and beautiful. But before that can happen it might be best to continue carrying the label purely as a functional tool.

But, I am ready to start suggesting some poetic names, perhaps names that could replace the ‘toolish’ label in the future. Before I do my own suggesting, though, I’ll mention others first.

I’m struck by two of Mythryn’s suggestions: ‘Auracular Poetry’ and ‘Audiocanvassed Poem’ (in comments below ‘What is this called?’) . I’ve looked up ‘auracular’ and have got to the word ‘auricular’; I think Mythryn’s spelling is unique, and that might be intended, and if not, then it might be a useful accident. But, ‘auricular’ means simply that something is audible, and so in the technical sense only describes spoken poetry. ‘Audiocanvassed’ is really good, conjures painting with sounds. The word ‘audio’, although in its first meaning again refers simply to what can be heard, by now it is almost always related to electronic/digital recording, and so I think works for us. But, you do have to be so careful with all the baggage that comes with naming and labels and how others can pick up baggage you didn’t even know you were carrying and then run away from you with it, for better or worse! So, the word ‘canvassed’: ‘The action or process of personally soliciting votes before an election.’ (Oxford Shorter). It’s a shame, cuz I really like the painterly image, but unfortunately the politically charged baggage is something I would not want the name of an art to carry.

(And talking of baggage, I’m afraid the acronym for ‘digitally produced audio poetry’ DPAP has in its last syllable unfortunate connotations of the dumbed-down, or depending on your bent, the more nourishing suggestion of ‘teat’ or ‘breast’!)

David MacCooey refers to his distinctive and excellent work as ‘poetry soundtracks’. (Although it is interesting and surprising to me that on SoundCloud he labels his poetry soundtracks as ‘Electronic’. ) I think the label ‘poetry soundtrack’ very much fits David’s work, and in good ways, connecting to cinematic aesthetics, as alluded to by Michael Myshack in his ‘What is this called?’ post. In correspondence with David (via SoundCloud) he wrote to me: ‘I guess my term, ‘poetry soundtracks’ (which took me some time to arrive at), is a subset of digitally produced audio poetry.’ And I agree with him on that, but as I will mention shortly, I think DPAP itself might actually be a subset!

David Stevens  sometimes collaborates with poet Heather A Taylor to produce astounding work. He calls this collaboration ‘Electrocoustic poesetics’. The ‘electrocoustic’ portion gets across ‘digitally produced’ and in a more elegant manner than my label; and the ‘poesetics’ portion obviously gets across ‘poetry’, but in an interesting, surprising and not wholly clear way. Which is perfect for poetics, although not so good for conveying direct technical info to the uninitiated. I’m pretty sure David has invented ‘poesetics’, and I find the word intriguing. The ‘poes’ part of the word, largely because of the letter ‘s’ conjures for me the word ‘poiesis’ (from the Greek for ‘creation’/’to make’; the route meaning of poetry). The ‘etic’ part connects with ‘aesthetic’, and ‘synthetic’. And get this: if one splits out from the word ‘POEseTIC’ the word ‘poetic’, we come to the word ‘se’. Now, I really don’t know if David intended this, but I do like the fact the Oxford Shorter defines the noun ‘se’ thus: ‘A Chinese twenty-five-stringed plucked musical instrument, being a form of zither.’ So, there’s a lot of poetic flux going on here that I find pleasurable, and poetically useful. But again, it’s not direct enough to transmit information to the uninitiated, and also, although not as technically ugly as my label, it is still rather a mouthful and not easily gasped-out smoothly.

Michael Myshack’s (Swampmessiah’s) title for this blog-website is rather brilliant and beautiful, in its simplicity. This could work as an excellent label. ‘Poetry and other sounds’ is essentially what we are talking about. Poetry is of course a sound once it is spoken, and vocalised poetry has to take its place in the world of sounds, alongside all the world’s other sounds, and I think that is what our new(ish) artform is very much about. It is not a great title for conveying to the uninitiated (but as I’ve said, we are now thinking about the future when the function-label can be dropped). Besides, I’m sure a sensitive and interested uninitiated person would probably get much of the artform from Michael’s phrase; it would simply require a little thought, and inquisitiveness about what ‘other sounds’ might be.

Michael’s phrase led me on to thinking of this: ‘sound-enhanced poetry’. It does not have quite the same poetic grace as ‘poetry and other sounds’, but it does compress phrase into label. And it is quite clear about what it is, although it does not emphasise the digital. But I think that can only be a good thing, as ‘sound-enhanced poetry’ can actually range from simply spoken poetry (simply because once poetry is not being read silent in the mind, once it is lifted off the page and spoken into air to hear, it is being enhanced by sound, or being enhanced by its truest ‘self’) through to a live recording of a poet next to a waterfall accompanied by intermittent blackbird and electric-guitar three hundred yards away, through to the utterly digitally produced: that spoken into a computer and electrified through various digital devices and filters.

So, at this point I think ‘sound-enhanced poetry’ might do the job. (And I now rather think that ‘digitally produced audio poetry’ is actually a sub-genre of ‘sound-enhanced poetry’.) ‘Sound-enhanced poetry’ doesn’t ‘sound’ too cumbersome either, and it’s half way between poetic name and functional label. But …

… I’m still after something which can be more simply breathed out in one go, with no gaps (gasps) between words. And so I suppose I’m after a single word. A word as easily said as ‘poetry’. Yes, how splendid it would be, for there to be a time when there was a single word for this artform that many people would instantly recognise. Poets are such dreamers! But we can also be quite practical when it comes to constructing with words. So, here goes. I’ve got on my poetry-overalls and I’m about to open up that glorious tool-box so full of well-oiled & glistening syllables:

The main words: Poetry. Sound. Sonance. Poiesis. Sonus.

Very nice bunch of sounds! Lets play at placing them and bits of them side by side:

                  poemsound
                                 poesound
     poiesisound
                     poiesound
                                       poiesisonus
                      poiesonus
         poesonance
                                                 poesonus

All of the above have some appeal, and all of them work in their own ways (some better than others).

I’m going with ‘poesonus’, although ‘poesonance’ is following close. What I like about ‘poesonance’ is how closely it associates with the word ‘assonance’ (‘Resemblance or correspondence of sound between two syllables.’ –Shorter Oxford). Poetry is full of assonance and correspondences, and we are talking about the sound of poetry coming into relationship with the world of other sounds, of poetry and other sounds corresponding, so yes, I like what the word conjures. But, it is not nearly so easily breathed out as ‘poesonus’. For me, the ‘n’ close to the end of ‘poesonance’ snags a little bit too much. Not that consonantal snagging is bad, in fact the rub and grit of such snagging is what makes much of poetry, but for this word I want the noise to be much more breathy, much more of vowels and sibilance, to fit more the ‘air’ it describes. So, ‘poesonus’ flows smooth. I also like its purity. It takes the first bit of ‘poetry’ and connects it directly with the Latin word for sound, ‘sonus’. It’s pure in that it simply meshes ‘poetry’ and ‘sound’ into one. There is also an attractive faint chime with the gorgeous word ‘song’.

If poetry gives us poems, then perhaps ‘poesonus’ gives us ‘poesons’. We have ‘poetic’; is there something other than this, is there ‘poesonetic’?

I think I might start labelling some of my tracks thus: POESONUS (sound-enhanced poetry). Sometimes I might put inside the brackets ‘poetry & other sounds’. Perhaps one day the phrase in brackets will go. Perhaps one day the label will go, and there will be a name there instead. Perhaps us ‘poet-sound-makers’ will one day know our ‘calling’.

Some of my tracks to come will still clang out ‘digitally produced audio poetry’, well perhaps … but I suspect I might use POESONUS more and more … or perhaps better words will emerge … ? We shall see, or should I say: HEAR?

Ruth White and Charles Baudelaire

In planning a future article about setting famous dead poets to music, I received an email from Bobbotov directing me to a YouTube video of Ruth White performing one of Baudelaire’s poems. Her recording is news to me and points out what I’ve been trying to get at: we’re doing nothing new by combining poetry and music but it’s been so difficult to find these recordings that we seem to be creating something new rather than adding to an established art.

In 1969 Ruth White created an  LP on Limelight records that consists of herself reading her own translations of nine of Baudelaire’s poems: The Clock; Evening Harmony; Lover’s Wine; Owls; Mists and Rains; The Irremediable; The Cat; Spleen; and Litanies of Satan. These were set to her own electronic soundtrack.

In 1969 I received The Doors’ Soft Parade for my twelfth birthday and with birthday money I made my first record purchase, The Doors’ previous album, Waiting for the Sun. With the text to “Celebration of the Lizard” on the inner sleeve of Waiting for the Sun, it was also my introduction to poetry. Since then I’ve acquired thousands of records and CDs, spent many youthful hours combing through the bins of records at Downtown Book (Duluth’s largest and only long lasting book/record/gift shop in the 1970s—never mind that it moved every year or two as the leases ran out), spent many more hours in record stores once I moved to Minneapolis in 1984, yet it is only today, April 27th, 2012, that I’ve heard of Ruth White and her recordings of Baudelaire.

I need to explore her recordings and I intend to purchase a copy of Flowers of Evil. This is a promo for the album that I found on SoundCloud, excerpts from the various tracks:

Eventually I’d like to form a timeline of known recordings of combined poetry and music. Right now I can barely imagine such a thing. A few of us know of this piece or that but I don’t know of anyone aware of a larger picture.

EQ and compression on your voice

Back in 1996, around the time I was starting to turn my poems into bizarre audio composition, musician and blossoming recording engineer (bet you didn’t know those guys could do like flowers) Larry Crane grew tired of not finding answers to his questions. He started a magazine for recording engineers called TapeOp.

Regarding this blog, yes, he is my role model.

TapeOp has grown into something of a community affair with dozens (hundreds?) of recording engineers and recording artists  contributing their expertise, giving advice, and telling horror and/or success stories for those of us who need to know. It is the only recording magazine that I know of which is down to earth, down and dirty, true to life, and practical. The others seem to specialize in gear lust and status worship (yes, a type of pornography—promising so much and delivering so little). And TapeOp is inspiring. The ethos is that you can record with just about anything, from a cheap dictation recorder to the best studio in the world (most desired studio seems to be Abbey Road, best studio is a matter of opinion): it’s the performance that counts. Good tools in the hands of skilled users are invaluable, but it’s the performance that counts. Is it any wonder that I set down the latest issue feeling fired up and ready to work?

But…I am the sort of person who is never happy. Though TapeOp is so far ahead of the competition (in my opinion, the only contender) there will always be room for improvement. Theoretically, there is room for improvement. Perhaps they lack the time and money to make some improvements. Perhaps they don’t see the same needs as I see. The point…it’s so easy for me to digress. The point is that I would like to see and hear examples of what they’re talking about. (The online extension of the magazine has been growing—while I have little time to explore—and it’s possible they’re already doing some of this multimedia see-and-hear stuff. The technology is ripe for it, as I’m learning here.)

The first tech demonstration I want to give is on using EQ and compression to improve the clarity of your voice in an audio composition. If all you’re doing is recording a performance of your reading or improv you might not need to do much to make your voice loud and clear (normalize, yes; compress a little if you can). If you’re putting your voice into a mix of other sounds, the louder and more diverse your background the more you’re going to want to do something to be heard.

This is the basic recording, normalized to make it as loud as possible without distortion. I’m going to process the (visual) right half of the file with EQ and compression to make it louder and tinnier sounding (!) and then compare the two versions with quiet backing and loud backing.

I’ll give you a few screen shots that might help clarify what I’m saying and doing.

This is the screen shot of the original WAV file, after normalization.

This is a graphic EQ screen shot. You can see that I've cut everything below 300 Hertz, where the voice conflicts with lower pitched instruments, and boosted the sound between 500 and 1000 Hertz, which is where most of the intelligible portions of your voice lie.

The waveforms on the right show what happened after I applied the EQ settings and normalized again. See how much of the sound disappeared after cutting the lower pitches in my voice?

This is a screen shot of Sound Forge's Wave Hammer compressor's "voice" preset, just to give you an idea of where you might want to start with your compressor.

A screen shot of the wave forms after compression. The initial burst of energy, as I say "after" has remained the same but the less energetic phonemes have been boosted. That's basically what compression is for: making the weaker signals audible while keeping the louder signals from overloading.

You’ll notice that the EQ’d vocal sounds awful. I’m putting up two mixes, one with a quiet background and one with a noisy background, and you’ll hear how both the processed and unprocessed voice fit in. If you’re recording a quiet piece you still might want to do some compression just to keep the volume of your voice more consistently audible. It’s a balancing act of staying true to your reading and being courteous to your listeners.

You’ll notice on the loud demonstration that the untreated voice can barely be heard. Even with the processing, on the loud demonstration the voice is still a little weak. Either turn down the instrumentation, boost the voice if you don’t overload, or try a little more compression on the voice.

What is this called?

Let’s take the basic premise: poetry, in it’s broadest sense to include everything from a shopping list to Homer (Simpson or that other guy, your choice); whether written or improvised, ultimately verbalized (that is, spoken, intoned, said out loud); performed before an audience or in a studio, recorded in the process; combined with music (whether performed at the same time, in the studio or before an audience, or separately and combined later) or other sounds such as field recordings or an audio collage (which could be constructed separately without any relation to the words, expressly to illustrate or enhance the words, in tandem with the words as both develop)…have I covered it all? Probably not. Poetry with other sounds for the stimulation of your ears rather than your eyes.

That’s what it is. But what do we call it? I’ve been listening to this sort of thing for at least thirty-five years (longer if we consider The Doors’ “Celebration of the Lizard”) and producing it for over sixteen, but I’ve never known what to call it.

Recorded poetry? That’s great to describe what we can find of, say, Sylvia Plath or T.S. Eliot. An extension of the written word or perhaps an archive of an improvisation, but it leaves out the music or ambience.

Audio poetry or audio composition? Again, both are incomplete. Audio poetry composition? Clumsy and verbose.

I’ve considered tone poem but it’s already been attached to another art form and has too many associations, though it would be a good description.

How about sonic poem thing? Only after 2 AM.

Poetry soundscape? That might work. Has it been used before? Does it have other associations?

Sounded poetry? This is not only incomplete but is in use to describe an existing genre (see McCooey’s article).

Poetry soundtrack? Poet David McCooey has suggested this title in his essay Fear of Music: Sounded Poetry and the “Poetry Soundtrack” (I’ll be getting back to his essay many times, since it sums up a lot of want I want to get at with this blog). At one point I was thinking of calling my own work sound-tracks with a heavy pun and self-mockery in the word “sound”, considering that some of my stuff could come across as pretty cracked. Also, there’s a cinematic reference, both favorable and unfavorable, and much of what I’ve heard does come across as a soundtrack with voiceover.

Mark Goodwin has been calling it Digitally Produced Audio Poetry, or DPAP for short. Even if we leave off the digital portion (though at least 99% of what’s current is digital), to call it produced audio poetry, while getting to the point both thoroughly and succinctly, is still a bit longwinded.

I’ve heard that in English clubs there’s a current fashion called Poetronica. I like the brevity and catchiness of it. I don’t think it’ll work, though, because it will carry too much baggage from the club scene and implies that the musical element, one, be musical and, two, that it be electronic and, three, that it have a strong rhythmic content. This excludes field recordings and ambience. It excludes banjos and accordions and collaborations with your friendly neighborhood choir (if only there were such a thing, eh). It excludes non-musical clanks, buzzes and zooms. Already I’m feeling shut out.

Poetry compositions? Poetry constructions? Poetry productions? Produced poetry?

Anyone in the mood for a contest?

My Apologies

My apologies to anyone kind enough to check out this blog. Thank you for your patience. I’m in way over my head in so many ways.

If you’ve made a comment, I don’t really know how to find it or read it. I’ve approved some but don’t know where they show up on the blog. Or do they? (By the way, as nice as it is to hear a kind word, the comments I’d prefer to receive are directions away from me. For instance, you might add to the post or point toward some other websites, blogs, or even physical resources. This blog is intended to be about the art.)

If I haven’t reciprocated and started following your blog, also, my apologies. If you have anything that pertains to the topic of recorded poetry I’d love to link to you, maybe to follow you, and possibly write something about what you’re doing. Please contact me. (Can I say that more forcefully: if you have anything to add, please contact me.) At the moment I don’t even know how to run a search of blogs (that is, a productive search) to find you or anyone we’d both be interested in.…I’m not here to be part of a social network though there’s some inevitability of that. Nor am I here to create a successful blog, whatever that is. As far as I’m concerned it’s all about the art (didn’t I just say that?).

If you have anything to add, please contact me. (That sounds familiar.)

Again, sorry if I’m not a proper citizen of blogland. No offense has been intended.

Tone-Poem

Tone Poem. What comes to mind is 19th Century symphonic music by composers who wanted the lushness of the symphony but more freedom to explore the theme. Ravel and Debussy, for instance. Richard Strauss, too. (Sometimes I’m willing to admit my ignorance. Sometimes I can even gloat over it, as a form of senile bragging. In regard to the topic, I knew I knew very little and had to take a peek at Wikipedia.)

Hungarian/American composer and musician Istvan Peter B’Rácz has created a group on SoundCloud called Tone-Poem that features the recorded voice but also carries on with the musical tradition. There are almost two hundred tracks posted by over fifty artists. The selection is heavily dominated by Brian Routh. The majority of Routh’s productions are pre-recorded spoken word, usually public addresses on political topics (in fact, his recent postings are most often tagged Music of Activism). I suspect you’ll either be emphatically nodding along or shaking your fist at the computer screen…maybe especially if you agree with him you’ll be shaking your fists in outrage at what’s happening in the world. It’s not always easy listening to Routh’s productions.

B’Rácz began Tone-Poem by spotlighting two compositions of his own that feature the poems of his sister, Emöke S. B’Rácz.…I don’t know what to say about these pieces or anything else by B’Rácz, almost anything I could say would trivialize his talent. It’s one of the regrets in my life that I don’t have more time to listen to his work (or in general: more time to listen).

Another frequent contributor to Tone-Poem and Air to Hear is Bryant O’Hara. I’m just beginning to explore his work myself. O’Hara’s compostions are wildly experimental. I don’t mean to say that he’s inaccessible, though a few pieces might leave you scratching your head. By day he’s a programmer (and, I assume by night, a fan of science fiction and anime), which leads to some adventurous processing of both voice and sound. (Now that I think of it, I’m not sure the selected track is featured in Tone-Poem.)

The last artist I want to feature is Alison Boston (this is the link to her live improv). Like O’Hara, I’ve stumbled on her work before but hadn’t pursued it. I intend to remedy that. Both O’Hara and Boston experiment with sound, with creating a whole audio composition. The best thing would be to have each of these artists speak for themself, rather than me flaunting my ignorance. And there it is, Alison Boston at WordPress!

Air to Hear

You know, I’ve been seeking this recorded poetry thing—especially an audio production that’s more than just a capturing of the reading, more than just the poet’s voice—for approximately thirty-five years, and I haven’t been coming up with much. Part of this is no doubt my own fault. All those years living in the north woods and wanting to move to the city to experience Culture, once I got to Minneapolis in 1984 I found that little of it was interesting and almost none of it affordable. I remained isolated. Also, I think I need art to be kept at a distance. I prefer recordings to concerts. I like to be far enough removed that I don’t have to deal with the artist’s vanity and ego or their misogyny or their tendency to chew with their mouth open. I’d rather just look at what they did, read their books, listen to someone else perform their music (if we’re thinking of dead white guys with violins), make the proper sounds of appreciation and everyone’s happy (primarily, I’m happy).…The embellished poetry, I think it’s been around…maybe part of the gallery scene, part of installations and collaborations, maybe popping up from time to time in campus art departments—I think it’s been around as a performance art but not as a recorded art. Maybe it’s not the sort of thing you hear in clubs, not commercial enough to attract the record industry. Maybe it’s not fun. Maybe it’s something that happened in some cities but not all of them, and was therefore easy to miss. Maybe it’s not really what people want to hear (the poet is speaking and when someone speaks it’s normal to stop and listen—is this something you’re going to dance to or sing along with or play in the background as you study for finals?). I’m sure poets have been accompanied by musicians long before we had a recording technology. So, where is it? Where are the journals and critics? Where are the how-to books? Where are the collected treasuries? Where is that special shelf in the library? Where is that overflowing spot in my record collection?

I started recording my own compositions in the spring of 1996 and managed to keep it a fairly anonymous and secret affair until last year. A fellow artist/poet/noisemaker (he’s also a sculptor and filmmaker) said he was posting a few of his songs on soundcloud.com and that I should check it out. I did.

And that’s where I first started running into the kind of poetry I’d been looking for. Like everything else on the internet, I don’t have time for it. It’s a shame. I don’t have time to do the searches and check all the leads.…A year ago there were dozens of poetry and spoken word groups at SoundCloud. Today there are over one hundred. Too many of the groups are specialty items for a single artist’s self-promotion. They tend not to attract much attention.…The majority are hip hop, which to my ear is an overly rigid form of poetry. Too much of the spoken word is just a clip from a film or old television show laid on top of a techno beat (I mean “techno” in its most generic sense of electronic dance music). Still, I’ve found several groups that feature original poetry and creative sound compositions.

The gem at SoundCloud is Air to Hear, moderated by UK poet Mark Goodwin. He’s been working very hard to spearhead an artistic revolution. I can’t keep up. Every couple months I go back to his home page and find several more links to new projects he’s working on. Air to Hear is his passion and seems to be the largest and most successful of his poetry groups. It now has almost two hundred tracks by over seventy-five artists. The diversity of styles of poetry and music should keep you listening way past your bedtime. There are traditional poets with traditional music, ambient backgrounds, static and noise, field recordings. There are poets speaking languages I don’t understand. There are soundtracks I might not want to understand. There are poets I don’t understand speaking my own language. There are rantings and bedtime stories and love poems and tales of sorrow and confusion. There is gibberish and profundity. There are people just taking their first steps in a new medium and others who sound slick enough to be heard on the radio. Basically, Air to Hear is an ever growing audio anthology. Like any good editor, Mark has been very active in seeking out new works and soliciting poets and musicians to submit Air to Hear.

It saddens me that I’m not forty years younger with enough spare time to explore every promising lead at SoundCloud. Specifically, I’d like to follow up with almost every single artist posting in Air to Hear. Mark thinks that our time has come. Speaking as a fan more than as an artist, I hope he’s right. I’d like to hear this stuff coming out of someone else’s earbuds.