Diana Harmon Garnand and the Art of Collaboration

It’s too easy to think of the artist—at least certain types of artist, such as poets and painters—as isolated beings. And we, the artists, too often buy into that stereotype. Prior to the era of Earth being blanketed in communication networks we’d all have to hang out at a bar or café, if we wanted to connect with other artists, drinking and arguing rather than creating. Of course we can still do that, and it has its rewards. But you can avoid the hangover and actually use those networks to make art.

Diana Harmon Garnand is doing just that. At the beginning of 2012 she began posting her readings of poems, her own and those of some favorite poets (notably Rumi and Neruda), on soundcloud.com. “I have only been on SC since January and have only been recording since then, so my tracks are no older than that, and I have even deleted most of my voice only recordings which I started out with, to gain space.” (All quotes are from email exchanges.)

It didn’t take long for musicians to notice her. “Many times I recorded and posted a vocal of a poem and then unbeknownst to me an artist (or several) have downloaded it and meshed it with their tracks, then sent it to me to see what I think. In most cases, they have worked beautifully.” “I happen to know that in many cases their music tracks were created…long ago and just recently blended with the vocal track…and in other cases, some of the tracks were created specifically for my vocal tracks.” “In a few occasions, an artist has sent me their music track and asked me to write or find something to recite with it.”

Of everything I’ve heard her do, the following is my favorite. To me, the poem, her voice, the music all fit perfectly.

The most ambitious project she’s been involved with is reading for Zebrabook‘s project, The Dead Company (he is known elsewhere as Jon Bushaway). Tales of loss, despair, heartache, these are not exactly what Diana is usually drawn toward, but she brings to them a very painful vulnerability that keeps them believable.  “The Dead Co project was quite something to be part of and I’m quite grateful to Jon (Zebra) for allowing me to be a voice for that. Real life but often uneasy topics.” “…the process begins with being moved by a piece of poetry; I try to connect deeply with all the pieces I recite, although in honesty, it is challenging to connect emotionally with some of them. With the ones about love and romance, no problem.”  “Many of The Dead Co pieces I could connect with rather quickly, others not so much. My goal is that this emotional reaction, connection, interpretation comes through in the reading.”

I find it encouraging for other poets and actors, the simplicity of her recording “studio”. “My equip is very novice at this point: my laptop and built-in mic…It’s what I have for now and as I didn’t set out to do this initially, it’s what I am able to utilize for now, so it works. I have dreamt about a studio however… and a real mic too, lol. All the stuff. Someday perhaps. My ‘studio’ is my closet, lol. I laugh but it’s really something I love doing.” “And yes, in most cases the collab partner is doing the mixing and effects. I have also done some myself though 🙂 If the music to vocal mix sounds out of balance to me, I tell the partner…”

You really don’t need much to record yourself these days and it’s very easy, at least in theory, to find artists with whom you can collaborate (this is a topic I expect to return to many times, until every poet who wants to record is doing it and every musician looking for a poet has found one).

Because of financial and space constrictions, Diana has begun a second page at soundcloud.com: and speaking of love…

I have to leave you with one more recorded collaboration before we part ways. This is a reading of a poem by London’s Taymaz Valley, music by another soundclouder Brian Routh.



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!