Mark Goodwin Interviewed at Strange Alliances

Last week I posted an article about recording and some of the tools that might come in handy. An interview of contributor Mark Goodwin has recently been posted on Strange Alliances that partly continues this subject (about two-thirds of the way in). It’s an excellent interview on Mark’s motives, why he’s not a farmer, and on creativity in general. I encourage you take the time to read the whole thing.


Connecting the Fragments

I have two books on William Blake by Ruthven Todd, one is about Blake the artist and one is about Blake the poet. Reading these books you’d think that there’d been two guys named William Blake who lived at the same time and same place but had never crossed paths. Blake was not a divided man, at least not in any creative sense: his poems and drawings were all serving the same purpose. To me, this is one of the symptoms of insanity in our culture, the need to fragment and specialize (where the means become the end).

For over 30 years I’ve wanted to produce books that combine all the media in which I work. Back then it was just a matter of words and images. It seemed to become even more of a pipe dream once I started recording. Always, it was beyond my means, where I would need the commitment and money of others—that is, a publisher.

Just as we can all now be record producers in our own homes (and within the grandeur of our own minds), it is also easy to become your own publisher. And electronic publishing makes this a full-color operation immediately viewable online and downloadable. Even more wonderful, you can add audio and video. Sculptors, installation and performance artists, landscape artists and others creating immediate experiences and environments will still be limited to very meager recorded representations of their work. But for we flatlanders, we isolated recluses of the creative world, we who too often stick to the archaic media and craft of, say, painting and poetry, there is hope.

Years ago I worked as a silkscreen printer, where I was introduced to early incarnations of digital publishing via Photoshop and QuarkXPress. Since about 2003 or 2004 I’ve been using Adobe’s Creative Suite, which means I switched from QuarkXPress to InDesign. This really hasn’t amounted to anything except a few individually distributed book/CD compilations for friends (or victims, as they might seem) and a lot of debt. I was always tempted by the possibilities of the software but without a public presence and connections it was just a very strange form of self-pleasuring.

After the release of the iPad in 2010, and the subsequent burst of activity in the tablet market, the world has begun to blossom for electronic publication and Adobe has really been pushing the electronic connections for InDesign.

I now subscribe to Adobe CS6 Creative Cloud and am in the process of reading ePublishing with InDesign CS6 by Pariah Burke. The layers of debris and rot are being peeled away from my imagination and my youthful passion to produce books in which I can include all the media I work in is again becoming visible and showing signs of life.

First, I’ll recreate some of my old chapbooks and CD booklets, to master the software and publication process (and I’ll probably need some sort of website to make them available). Just think, in each book, instead of burning CDs, I can place the audio tracks within the text and graphics with a link to play the recording. This will be downloadable, interactive, and viable in almost all devices in use (probably the interactive PDF format). It shouldn’t be too big of a deal to create alternate formats from the original InDesign file.

As I continue to explore the software and process I’ll keep you informed of the results. I’d really like to convince others that this is doable (not so cheap, InDesign alone is about $650 and takes some time to learn how to use…or the subscription, with access to almost every program Adobe has, is $50 a month). As much as I love the printed page, having those sheets of paper in my hand or stacked around my bed like talismans of safety and tranquility and vivid dreams, I will embrace the very rich future of electronic publishing. At least creatively, my day is coming. I hope we all have our day, both as producers and consumers.

As a farewell, I’m going to leave you with a recording and one of my drawings, to give you a sense of how they’re each an expression of the same imagination and why they should be combined in a single publication…


LXXI-71 8”× 6” Graphite, india ink, gesso, chalk, and acrylic on cream Rieves BFK. Circa 1988.
In 1983 I began a project called Laughing Water combining poetry and erotic drawings, most of which are sexually explicit. I’m hoping this one is tame enough for the world of blogs and our supposedly free speech internet.


Recording Your Poetry Is Affordable

…if you have some surplus income and/or already own some electronic device such as a computer, tablet, or iPhone.

When I first began recording in 1996 I started as cheaply as I could: a 4-track cassette portable studio and a used microphone totaling less than $500. Oh, yeah, and some cables. Within two years I’d gotten myself about $10,000 in debt and still had no way to put this work in front of the world except through mechanical reproduction and physical distribution. Still, it was very cheap and egalitarian compared to what was available 10-20 years earlier (well, the field was becoming expensive again as digital recorders entered the market, and that’s what brought me down).

Now there are so many inexpensive options, both for creation and distribution, because of the ubiquity of computers, portable devices, and the internet.

(Before I forget, digital portable studios are now very cheap, starting at about $100 for a 4-track. I know very little about these, the quality of recording, what formats are supported, and how they interface with computers. And you still need a microphone (and I’d say a pre-amp). This is more what you’d want if you’re working with others, such as if you were resident poet in a band.)

I’m primarily going to discuss multitrack, computer-related production. (If you have an iPad or iPhone I encourage you to explore the apps and inputs available. Microphones that connect directly to Apple products are becoming very common and inexpensive.)

One of the cheapest ways to record your art and build structures that are more than just a documentation of your reading is to use the microphone available in your laptop and to download free software, such as Audacity (for PC, I think Apple comes with music software). If I remember correctly, these recordings by Dave Migman and Lee Foust were both done this way:

Another very cheap way of recording any sound, as well as your voice, is a handheld portable recorder (I use a Zoom H-1, which cost about $100). Almost all of these recorders can connect to a computer via USB and some sort of card, such as an SD card. They often come with free software, though you might want to stay with Audacity. I use mine for field recording, though I have also used it for recording readings and improvisations. Among other things, Mark Goodwin uses a portable recorder for his landscape projects:

For reasons of control and convenience I prefer to work in a “studio” (that is, my bedroom). Probably the next cheapest way of recording directly to computer is to use a USB microphone. There are many on the market, usually under $200, that come with free software.

When I began working on a computer about 10 years ago, it wasn’t so simple and direct, though it had already become affordable (that is, costing hundreds of dollars rather than thousands). You still had to use a traditional microphone and needed an audio interface that would transform an analog audio signal into ones and zeroes for the computer (ASIO, for output as well as input, to eliminate the lag so you could monitor and overdub in realtime) . I think all current audio interfaces will supply phantom power for a condenser mic and most have a built-in pre-amp to boost the signal.

I recommend a pre-amp. It’s not a glamorous tool but is the one thing I wish I’d gotten before I laid down my first signals to tape. For digital recording it’s nice to have a tube pre-amp to color your signal a little, to add tube distortion (one of the sources often referred to as “warmth”).

At the moment my usual signal chain is a Røde NT1 condenser microphone (roughly $200); a PreSonus Bluetube 2-channel pre-amp (about $250); an M-Audio Fast Track Pro, 2-channel USB audio interface with digital I/O and MIDI I/O (also around $200). None of which would satisfy a professional engineer but is perfectly adequate for most of us. Also, keep in mind that you could get comparably good gear for about half the price if, for instance, your pre-amp were single channel or your USB interface skipped the MIDI I/O. A Shure SM57 is still a staple in the recording industry and costs under $100.

You should also keep in mind that if you intend on recording with any kind of instrumentation or mangling your voice or household sounds, software has become ridiculously cheap. For the past couple years the buzz has been around PreSonus Studio One, starting at $100. I use Sony’s Sound Forge for editing (mostly for mangling sounds, creating my own loops, and for conversions to various formats) and ACIDPro for composing. (I’ve had Audacity on my computer but haven’t used it in years. I really don’t like the program but want to remind you that it’s free and easy to use.)

Finally, there’s distribution. If you think you’ve got something to sell there’s Bandcamp, CD Baby, iTunes, and many others, each with their own quirks, perks, and idiocies. Something I’ve yet to explore: Netlabels. You can post your recordings on your own website. My choice for the past two years has been  SoundCloud, which can give you a more social experience than the other options. Or an old standard: MySpace.


Sheol, by Spleen and Migman

I’m sure it sounds like the end of the world when Dave Migman orders a cup of coffee. I don’t know him in the real world, only via the internet and, so it’s possible that he sometimes sounds like a mild mannered human being. I have doubts, though. I think doom is always impending in Scotland, just an offshoot of the cuisine or climate.

Migman has been working in collaboration with Spleen Erebus to create a beautifully disturbing album called Sheol. Here we have a sampling of the album Dave and Spleen have put together:

Dave’s writing always has that blood and sinew quality of Dylan Thomas or, say, Ted Hughes’ Crow (Hugh MacDiarmid also comes to mind, though it’s been twenty years since I’ve read any of his work and my impression could be faulty)—deep and mythic, mysterious, lit as much by firelight as sunlight. There are forces of nature at work and humanity is as much victim as power within this world.

Spleen Erebus is from Vojvodina, Serbia. I’ve heard little of his work beyond his collaborations with Dave. His world is also lit by a different light source, casting richly moving shadows. In his own words, “Spleen is musick coming from the most secret and dark part of our soul that cannot be seen with the eyes – our primal nature!”

As much as I like Sheol for itself, and I find it deeply moving, I also appreciate it as an indication of the type of art I so desperately want to hear more of: poetry and sound combined as serious art. It isn’t dance music or pop. That is, it isn’t hip hop. This work is a descendent of European art music, such as the tone poem, and cinema and epic poetry.

It isn’t necessary to read along while listening but when you buy the album a PDF with the text is included. I hope to have the words in front of me during at least one of my many future playings of this magnificent recording.

You might find it odd that something this seemingly gloomy gives me so much pleasure. It does. I am ecstatic.