Mark Goodwin and Brian Lewis on Poems, Places & Soundscapes

I always wish I could be in England. Right now I’d like to be there to witness and experience this exhibit.

Strange Alliances

Poems, Places & Soundscapes exhibition space Poems, Places & Soundscapes exhibition space

Poems, places and soundscapes describes itself as ‘An international exhibition of digitally produced sound-&-poetry focusing on place & soundscape’. It is a description that does not do justice to the depth of sensory texture the visitor experiences from the combination of media in the meticulously curated exhibition of work from an extensive range of poets and presentations.

This type of work is also available online, but there is something of a sense of occasion walking into the intimate Cube gallery in Leicester’s Phoenix arts complex.

I interviewed the exhibition’s curators Mark Goodwin and Longbarrow’s Brian Lewis to find out more.

Tell me about why you put this exhibition on and a little bit about it.

Mark: One of my motives is that I’d like more people to start making this kind of work. I’m amazed by the variety and ingenuity of the of sound-enhanced…

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Poems, Places, and Soundscapes

Poet Mark Goodwin and publisher Longbarrow Press are putting together an exhibition of poetry as sound art, this month in Leicester.

I’ll let Mark’s notice do the talking:

Hello! Happy Spring!

As part of my Arts Council England Grants for the arts funded project – Mark Goodwin’s Sound-Enhanced Poetry – I and Longbarrow Press will be exhibiting digitally produced sound-&-poetry made by various international artists. The exhibition – Poems, Places & Soundscapes – will be held in the Cube Gallery at The Phoenix in Leicester, and will run from 7th April to 25th April 2014. More information can be found here:
The exhibition presents thirty sound-enhanced poems and twelve film-poems … and represents over sixty artists … including musicians, sound-designers, a painter, film-makers, poets, and poet-sound-artists.

We are holding an informal discussion event about sound-enhanced poetry, film-poem and artistic collaboration at The Phoenix in Leicester on the evening of 10th April … all are welcome to listen and contribute …

After the exhibition, Longbarrow Press will present the exhibited works, associated material and evaluation here:

Kind regards, Mark Goodwin

Here’s the link to the list of contributors:

I wish I could be there.

The Familiar Is Best?

For the moment the best way to produce a multi-media presentation of your poetry might be something very familiar: the downloadable album.

There is and may never be a truly universal format. At present all the available multi-media digital publishing options are severely limited as to where they can be fully operational and how many hoops you have to jump through as a producer to make them worth your while (to me the Digital Publishing Suite, available with InDesign, looks like a nightmare).

Downloading albums has not been part of my entertainment repertoire. I don’t like them and find that they’re generally overpriced. But some online friends have been putting their recordings up for sale on sites such as iTunes and Bandcamp. Of course it triggered my curiosity and imagination. What really caught my interest is how many file formats Bandcamp has been allowing in the category of “bonus features”: text files, PDFs, videos, JPEGs. I forget what else.

Also, it was really easy to put an album on Bandcamp. Even an old guy like me can do it. The cool thing is that you can keep it as a draft until you’ve worked out the kinks and bugs and have tracked down all your typos and whatever other brain farts you’ve added to the page while you thought you were awake. (I also want to point out that the search engine on Bandcamp is superior to that on iTunes. Just go to the respective sites and try to find Dave Migman, on Bandcamp, and David McCooey, on iTunes. The only way I can find McCooey’s Outside Broadcast is to do a Google search and then link to iTunes. Maybe by the time you’ve read this Apple will have corrected things.)

In an earlier experiment, Essay, I tried giving you the example of an interactive PDF, which could contain audio and video files, plus internal and external linking. Unfortunately, Adobe still creates a Flash player for the audio and video, which severely restricts the utility of the book. It will be read only, like any other printable PDF, in Apple products and most mobile devices.

Uploading an album to Bandcamp (the album can be as long or short as needed, but if you’re doing an extended epic I suggest breaking it into sections since they do have a limit to the length of track upload, currently about 25 minutes long) allows you the luxury of higher resolution audio (compared to what you’d normally use for an interactive book). The PDF bonus book can be printed and bound, if you’re that old fashioned, or a rich experience on an electronic device (for instance navigation by thumbnails or by a linked table of contents, plus hyperlinks for users connected to the web). You can also add album artwork and posters. You can include videos. Basically, you can give your audience a lot to play with and enjoy for not much fuss. (Well, this depends on how difficult it is for you to create these things, how much time you have, and how obsessively perfectionist you are.)

I like the idea of giving the audience the richest possible experience. It doesn’t cost you any extra to upload more goodies.

My demonstration is a revival of a book I made in early 2001, when I was at the beginning of my computer experiences and in the process of archiving all my drawings, poems, and recordings: Six Sonnets and Some Wild Words Resurrected from the Last Century plus a Line without a Home. Originally I printed maybe five copies on an imitation vellum and hand bound them. This year I recreated the book in Adobe’s InDesign and exported it as a printable PDF, leaving in the hyperlinks of the table of contents (the nice thing about PDFs is that they are ubiquitous, there are free downloadable PDF viewers, most word processor and publishing (and photo?) programs will export PDF, so you could make rudimentary documents for free).

Though the site engages you to choose your own price I encourage you to download the album for free. Just type a zero (or zed) into that little box and you can go straight to download.

The album is just a test piece. I hope my example inspires you to make something magnificent.


What will survive us? What will we have to say to the future?

The internet seems so much a present moment hustle, whether everyone speaking at once or everyone trying to sell something now, this second, that it seems like it has nothing to say to the future. Also, there is the question of what will survive, what will still be online (and if not online, will it be anywhere).

Before the digital age it was harder to have a voice, though not necessarily any more difficult to be heard. And, once something was written down, such as a letter, or printed and maybe even bound there was a chance that the physical artifact would outlast the writer and be discovered by someone years later.

I present this blog not only to speak to you now (in which case I suppose I should be frustrated because that “you” is a very small number of people) but to lay down a legacy of what we were doing with poetry and sound, how technology both inspired and foiled us, and maybe how what we did leads to what some future artist is doing.

So what happens to our words? Will these posts be eradicated forever when WordPress folds? Will they be deleted even before then? Partly I maintain this as a free blog (free to me) so that it might outlast me. Once I am unable to pay, because I’m dead, I have to assume the site will vanish or be reduced to a small portion of what it was.

I (that is, this particular person writing this post) do not necessarily deserve to have a legacy. Maybe even the artists I’ve mentioned do not. But the idea of what we’re all working on—the recording and fusion of sound and poetry and our explorations of the process—certainly does.

Interesting questions are posed for all of us bloggers. What becomes of our words and ideas? Do we have a legacy? Is there any way to guarantee there will be something for a future audience or scholars to explore? Will there be any connection between generations? Will historians of art find a trace of us?

I’m sure most people don’t give a shit about past or future and what we’ve found of their lives and art is just an accident (or that their concern rarely extends beyond vanity). It doesn’t seem to be an essential component in the human makeup. I am one of those historically inclined oddities. I sort of want the future to know about me and I definitely want them to know about all of us collectively.

If nothing else, I want them to know that we tried to do something all other generations have done and that we had not yet become nothing more than passive consumers. And that they might still be like us, that the corporations have not totally destroyed the human spirit and the will to create.

A Quick Mention

I want to treat this installment as a news flash. Mark Goodwin has an upcoming event and Dave Migman has two new releases of music and poetry.

First, I’ll pass on the basics of the exhibit Mark Goodwin is putting together in Leicester, quoting from an email announcement he sent me: “Poems, places & soundscapes  An international exhibition of digitally produced sound-&-poetry focusing on place, and soundscape. Poet Mark Goodwin and Brian Lewis (of Longbarrow Press) bring together and present a range of vivid, immersive sound-enhanced poetry made through various poet, musician and sound-designer collaborations, as well as by individual poet-sound-artists. The exhibition also includes a small selection of ‘place-entranced’ film-poems. This exhibition is part of Mark Goodwin’s Sound-Enhanced Poetry project, which was awarded an Arts Council of England Grant for the arts in 2013.  An open and informal panel discussion about sound-enhanced poetry and film-poem will launch the exhibition on April 10th 2014, 6.30 pm, The Cube Gallery, The Phoenix, Leicester.”

I hope you get to see and hear it in person.

I’m also hoping there will be more to post about the event and exhibition.

Something a little easier for most of us to experience are two more collections of recordings by Dave Migman, both released on March 5, 2014. We have a collection of his solo works, In the Kingdom of the Blind, released on Spleen’s label Splitting Sounds Records, which includes possibly my favorite recording of his, The Drift.

The other collection is another collaboration with Spleen, Where All Tracks Lead. As much as I liked their last album, Sheol, I think I find this one even more satisfying, perhaps because the music is more rhythmic (the old rocker in me is hard to put down).

In the future I’d like to do an article about Radio Wildfire, from the UK, who feature recordings of poetry and sound (I noticed both Dave Migman and Mark Goodwin on a current playlist), as well as hosting and presenting live events. I’m trying to get ahold of them. (A brief aside: the background on their site kills my eyes and leaves me with a fuchsia afterimage that prevents me from seeing much of anything for about 30 seconds. I hope your eyes are more adaptable than mine. It looks like an great site.)

I intend to get more information about recorded poetry from Longbarrow Press (notice that they have a tab for recordings), who publish Mark Goodwin and are involved in the exhibition. My ambition is to fill the world with multimedia publications, so if I ask enough people and write about it I will eventually get my wish? I think with or without me it’s happening.

I have also been digging into what Bandcamp allows you to upload into a release package. This includes PDF and video. So there’s no reason a poet and noisemaker couldn’t include a standard PDF with text and images as well as an interactive PDF with the recordings included, as well as video. Time and technology and skills permitting, of course. I’ve been thinking of releasing something of my own just to test the possibilities but more so I encourage others to try. I would like to hear and see what you can do.

Online Recording Resources

I don’t think making art is just a matter of spewing sounds or paint or what have you to convince the world that you’re alive and that you feel, though I have engaged in a great deal of spewing over the years. You have to start somewhere.

I think making art is also a matter of craftsmanship. It’s a matter of learning to use and misuse the requisite tools. At times I’ve been a little too concerned with craft and technique. Until you’ve mastered your tools craft can interfere with your emotional flow and you end up with nothing but a poorly made exhibit of technique—at best, an educational aid, a reminder of what you don’t want to do again.

During winter break of my final year of high school (this would have been December, 1974) I began delving into my mother’s paint box, which she hadn’t touched in over a decade. When I graduated in June of 1975 I started to paint in earnest and began ransacking the Duluth public library for everything I could find on painting and drawing techniques and quite a bit on art history: it was all new to me. This lasted at least a couple of years.

Throughout the 1980s I went through a similar process with books on writing poetry.

In the spring of 1996 I again began this process with books and magazines on home recording.

The one lesson almost all these works omit is the importance of making art. All the gear in the world, all the techniques every master can pass on will not give you what you need to make art. Just get out there and do it. Spew! The people I’ve encountered who are recording their readings on their phone or onto their laptop with the built-in mic are off to a good start. I would urge them to do the best reading/performance that they can (rehearse it, record multiple takes) and don’t get too close to the microphone but beyond that, just keep recording.

That being said, improving your craft will help you offer something more pleasing to your audience. Lo-fi has its charms but, to me, the only redeeming charm is that a great performance was captured despite poor technology. Most of the time the recording is only a tool for capturing and structuring the actual art, which is sound, and should be as transparent as possible. But recording can also be a more integral part of the art, in a sense adding to the flavor or creating a tangible matrix for your words and sounds. Once you have some skill it becomes an esthetic choice and you are a little less a victim of technology.

The substance of this article is minimal, a series of almost random links to websites that discuss some of the basics of home recording. I ran a Google search of “basic music recording” which provided most of these links. Then I ran a search for “basic recording techniques” which was very disappointing: it was almost all adds for schools. And a third search for “home recording tips”.

This article began with someone’s letter to the editor in Tape Op, a magazine for recording engineers, thanking them for opening a new questions page on their website. ( I can’t say enough in favor of this magazine, I’m a fan (and I’m not a fan of much that humans have created), and the subscription is free. The magazine on the whole is not that geeky. It’s not really a tech mag with page after page of mic placement and reports on knobs turned, though they have those moments. Primarily it’s a document of the human side of recording. I find the interviews inspiring and informative.

If you’re trying to take the first steps into more serious studio recording, on whatever budget, I don’t know that Tape Op is the place for you. I recommend reading every issue past, present, and future (as I said, I’m a fan) but you could very easily find your eyes glazing over when they do get down to serious discussions of hardware and technique. And when you see the price tags on some of the gear you will sometimes think there’s nothing in it for you. But they, more than anyone, support the just-do-it approach to recording. Use whatever is at hand. It’s the art that counts, not the tools used to make it.

I think I’ve said this before and I know I’ll say it again: if you have a computer connected to the internet you can get almost everything you need to record online for free.

I’m going to supply a rather random list of links I found from those searches. What I noticed is how much most of the authors get caught up in gear fetishes. That’s why I’m putting the link at the top of the list. (I generally haven’t gotten much of value from their books, which are too broad and too basic to answer most of my questions. But they might be the perfect place for you to start.) I also liked the quick links on the Basic Home Recording Studio site, which is why they’re second on the list.

Also, most physical book stores and certainly the online bookstores have plenty of how-to books for home recording. I read many that were in print in 1996 or shortly after. They also have a tendency to get bogged down in gear fetishes. As do I, for that matter.…I think you should find the few things that you really need, the best you can afford, and learn to use what you have. Everything else is potential distraction and baggage. (Here is a quick reference as to where you might start looking for cheap and useful tools:–Portable_Recorders.) A portable recorder is a significant step up in quality compared to using your phone or the mic built into your laptop and can be used for recording just about any sound, from your voice to environments to instruments.

Tech Support

I am neither technophobe nor new to computers yet I sometimes find myself needing help. And after receiving that “help” I want to scream, “Help!”

I’ve been using computers for close to fifteen years, purchasing my first PC in, maybe, 1999 after my word processor died. I’ve tackled a few minor hardware situations, such as cracking open the case and adding a backup drive and fighting my way through many hardware/software compatibility issues, as well as delving fairly deeply under the hood of menus within the operating system to track down that elusive but of software that’s giving me such a headache.

I have long worked with Adobe products—primarily Photoshop, InDesign, and, now, Muse. I have also long worked with Sony’s programs (originally Sonic Foundry’s), ACIDPro and Sound Forge, and have almost as long of a relationship with Native Instruments’ Komplete (versions 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9). Plus audio software from G-Force and iZotope. Nor am I a stranger to office software and databases.

Yet I sometimes need help with the simplest things.

One problem is that the graphical user interface is not well laid out. Things that should be obvious elude me. Maybe this is, as I said, bad design. Maybe I’m too tired to be on a computer or maybe there’s some other reason for collapse of brain. Anyway, I miss clicking the obvious button or fail to see a logical connection with a button and an action. (In one instance, with a two-part download, I clicked on the “run” button rather than the “save” button while downloading a software instrument and sound samples. Some things can work with either button. Some need one or the other. There was nothing in the instructions that would have tipped me off, though, in retrospect, I can see that there was a logical order. As for their technical support solving the issue, they were clueless and wanted me to start digging into my computer’s security and operating settings. I’d gone down that road with them before on a different issue and it created havoc on my computer while solving nothing (a year later they issued an update to the instrument in question and everything worked fine—apparently they didn’t want to acknowledge not being up to date). In the case of the download, I noticed a few unimportant things the tech had written in our exchanges and extrapolated the solution for myself, which was to save the download then install it.)

If you contact technical support for such a problem you will almost certainly fail to get help. They have no way of conceiving that the user could be that stupid. I suspect they’re all waiting for something deep and challenging that will engage their minds for a few hours and will truly change the outcome of the program for thousands of future users.

I don’t ask those kinds of questions.

Recently I’ve been having problems right here on WordPress. The SoundCloud players were not working. I had changed nothing in how I copied and pasted them from SoundCloud into my blog. Yet about two months ago I started getting a white box with “This track is currently not available” in place of the player and access to the uploaded recording.

I have a premium membership at SoundCloud, which entitles me to direct technical support. They have been persistent in helping me solve the problem but have been unable to find anything wrong with the coding. The closest anyone came to hitting it on the head was with this message: “Thanks for writing in and letting us know that it still isn’t working. Can you let me know if you are using a plugin on your WordPress? Can you try disabling it and embedding the widget code directly into the HTML5 format of your page? It may be that the plugin is causing a disruption and is not letting the widget render properly.”…First of all I’m just using the basic, free editor for writing my blogs. I know nothing of the aforementioned plug-in. Nor do I know anything about HTML5. I responded that I didn’t understand how to put these requests into action. I think the answer was there but I didn’t know how to extract it.

Since I’m only using the free version of WordPress I had to put a question to the forum of experts rather than getting direct support. The second person to respond asked me to try repasting the links using the text tab rather than the visual tab. This is not exactly what the SoundCloud tech was asking me to do with the request to code directly into HTML5 but it could have been close enough to trigger the experiment. With technical support you sometimes have to be able to make those intuitive leaps. I failed.

Anyway, that was the solution. Why it would suddenly not work to use the visual editor rather than the text editor is beyond me. Just know that it worked.

The source of frustration, here, is in communication between someone who understands the software and coding, or any other technology, and someone who doesn’t. Remind you a little too much of science or math classes? I’ve encountered this problem in almost all areas of my life, not just the technical. Communication seems to be an extremely rare ability. Evolution has not caught up to our social expectations. We have this idea that writing or speaking clearly will convey the information, whether technical or emotional, but especially the technical information, yet so often the message gets garbled. Too many people who have the information lack the verbal skills or imagination to convey their knowledge. Much less obvious, except perhaps to teachers and psychologists, is that many of us are incapable of understanding what we’re told. I see this every day.

If you run into problems don’t give up. Try rephrasing your questions. Try alternate sources if there are any. Be patient: you might think you’re being perfectly articulate but to the technician you’re speaking a foreign language (this could also be literally true, the internet is such a global project). Also, pay attention to the non-essential portions of the communiqué, which might be where the solution has been off-handedly supplied.