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: http://phoenix.org.uk/index.php?cms_id=850
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: http://poemsplacessoundscapes.wordpress.com/

Kind regards, Mark Goodwin

Here’s the link to the list of contributors: http://poemsplacessoundscapes.wordpress.com/contributors/

I wish I could be there.


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.

Music for Words, with Words

There’s someone in Sheffield who thinks he’s The Only Michael. He might be the only one who matters, and I certainly won’t contest that claim, though there are probably a billion of us who would say he’s not the only Michael—talk about overused names.

I discovered his postings on soundcloud.com, probably via Mark Goodwin‘s group Air to Hear, about a year ago, when I first began to write for this blog, and have had it in mind to spread the word. (Now that I look back on his page, Music for Words, I find that I’ve favorited almost all his tracks. Beautiful work.) These are collaborations with poets.…I think I had it in mind to do a large article on poet/musician collaborations.

That was then, and I may or may not be able to follow up on those impulses.

He’s now doing something I find much more exciting: a radio program of music and poetry and interviews all on the subject of combining music and literature: Music for Words on Basic.FM.

I awoke to this:

(August 10, 2013. I’ve just noticed that Michael is not keeping his broadcasts on soundcloud.com for long. Sorry. You’ll just need to check in with the other links. Again, here’s his page link.)

These are Michael’s stated goals:

“Music For Words with The Only Michael, is a monthly exploration of the recorded word and past and present collaborations between poets, story writers, musicians and composers.

“From the familiar to the strange, the missing link to the cutting edge, Music For Words showcases the many ways that speech and music can enhance and inspire each other to make something new, entertaining and compelling.”

I’m hoping he’s not inflexible in needing to present collaborations. There are some of us who are doing all of it, sound and word. (Actually, it’s possible he’s already strayed from that premise: I think Mark Goodwin’s piece is entirely self-produced.)

I also hope this first program isn’t too indicative of the tone of work he’ll be showcasing. It’s excellent. But it puts to mind why rock and roll sounded so exciting all those decades ago. I would like to hear something a little more open wound, a bit rougher around the edges. What I’ve been hearing, just on soundcloud.com, runs from the pompous to the genteel to the timid to the mythical to the gutter or the totally common and familiar, as happens with both poetry and our own lives. I would like to hear a wider range of poetic voices introduced to this broadcast.

That having been said, all the work I’ve found on Music for Words at soundcloud.com and everything in this broadcast keeps the poet’s voice at the forefront so you’re not struggling to hear what was said. Michael Harding himself has an excellent sense of combining his music with the writer’s words, complimenting and drawing out the emotive content.

The other suggestion I would make is that there be more notes to each broadcast when it’s posted on soundcloud.com, such as clearly stating who the artists are and any links or purchasing information.

Michael, I await your next broadcast.

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.

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.


Mark Goodwin

When I first began posting my work at soundcloud.com—I think this was in April, 2011—I quickly learned that the way to find people who interested me and who might want to hear what I was doing was to join groups. When I began to search for poetry groups Mark Goodwin’s Air to Hear was the richest and most promising.

This is where I first encountered Mark’s recorded poetry. My initial impression, aside from liking his writing, was that his readings were a little stilted and over-enunciated and that the sounds (we have to hear them more as audio construct than as music in the conventional sense) were not entirely connected to the reading but just floating in the background.

Partly this had to do with it being my first encounter with other artists doing the type of work that I’d been doing but with an entirely different aesthetic and intellectual agenda. We aren’t doing Poetronica or Hip Hop, there is no unifying style, no fashion, no conformity. We’re almost all working on our own in the isolation of our own homes, almost working in a void, each of us developing our own approach to the medium. We’ve drifted as a natural extension of recording readings of our poetry or we’ve heard the idea of mixing poetry and sound or music but have heard few examples, so what each of us comes up with tends to be idiosyncratic.

Partly it had to do with an American tradition of poetry reading versus a UK tradition. I’ve heard other UK writers since then with a similarly exaggerated enunciation, a precision of locution I cannot imagine coming from an American mouth. I have no way of connecting this to a social situation, no way of understanding how the style of reading developed.…Too much of what I’ve heard in the United States tends to veer toward a lecturn/pulpit pomposity, toward a soapbox self-righteousness, or toward an overly sincere, heartstrings kind of prepared group confessional simultaneously whining and manipulative…or like someone is just reading it off the page with an almost total lack of expression.

To a lesser extent, I think this also had to do with Mark testing the possibilities of the medium and feeling a little self-conscious with the whole operation. I think if you’re singing a pop song you listen to whether or not you’re doing it well but you don’t question the process itself. When you’re close to creating a new medium (we aren’t, but it’s uncommon enough that it sometimes feels that we are) you just have to stand back from your work and just wonder what the hell you’re doing.

Over the past two years I’ve heard well over seventy-five of his recordings—I’ve listened to most of them several times, both to get more out of them and just for the simple pleasure of hearing them. I think the change has been subtle but I’ve been hearing a level of comfort in his more recent posts, which I assume are more recent recordings (though I could be wrong). And, to my ear, it seems the sounds are more a part of the composition and less mere background. I think Mark has always had it in mind to make a complete composition but now it seems that there’s a better glue being used. On the piece he just posted this week the words and sounds are almost inseparable. Not that the words are an inferior work without the sounds, but they would now be an entirely different work.

How Statements by Eno, Mark Goodwin, and David McCooey Led to the Creation of This Blog

My interest in the fusion of poetry and music has often seemed dormant: all the years waiting for something to come along, waiting for some of the big names to embrace the opportunity of creating something relatively new and unfamiliar; all the years I spun my wheels trying to figure out how to make this kind of art myself; years thinking no one else was interested in such an art, or thinking of it as a secret cabal in New York or London or Berlin (places where they might take poetry seriously, but not so seriously it couldn’t be polluted by pop music). Even after finding a few of my kind on soundcloud.com it didn’t feel like enough. But I drifted along without working very hard to find more.

When the Sept/Nov 2011 issue of TapeOp (No. 85) arrived in my mailbox I noticed that they had an interview with Brian Eno. That could be interesting. It was. It was very enjoyable and informative and interesting until I read a sidebar on page 44, two questions regarding a recent collaboration between Eno and poet Rick Holland, Drums Between the Bells. Words to me that were devastating, since they suggested I was right that there isn’t much out there: “The whole process was a little like alchemy for both of us since we were working in a form that doesn’t really have much of a history.”

Of course I ordered the CD.

I also wrote to TapeOp (probably the first of the two actions). My hope was that it would be published and that I’d be led to a hidden treasure of music and poetry. (I really want to thank editor Larry Crane for publishing that one (it appears I have a reputation for writing often). It led to some interesting and rewarding responses, mainly of people introducing me to their own work.)

First, I’ll quote myself, repeating in full the letter I sent: “The interview with Brian Eno was the most enjoyable I’ve read in TapeOp, and I’ve read almost all of them. I want to thank you for the discussion of Drums Between the Bells, his collaboration with poet Rick Holland. As Eno said, “We were working in a form that doesn’t really have much of a history.” I hope it’s a form that has a future. Ever since I received Jim Morrison’s poetry set to music, An American Prayer, for Christmas in 1978 I’ve wanted to hear more of poetry and music combined. I’ve come across so little. Is there a gold mine out there I’m missing? Are people making something of poetry and music and I just don’t know where to look? Maybe once again the ripple effect from Eno’s splash will wash something up in a decade or two.”

Before I go any further with the responses I got to this letter to TapeOp, I’d like to add a couple tracks from Eno and Holland.

First of all, a guy named Steve sent me some information about Jack Kerouac reading with a jazz band on the Steve Allen Show, as well as an attachment of one of the performances. Interesting. I still need to follow where else this could lead, what’s in print and available.

Then I received an email from Brad Fiedler with a link to Shive Records and his collection of recordings called Typer Tapes #1. This is definitely worth your time. It reminded me of early Tom Waits and the Marlow stories of Raymond Chandler, with kind of a gritty street feel and a weird jazziness, but most of all reminded me of the Beat poets.

The third was someone named Bobby with a slightly confusing pointer to Listener. I liked what I heard but haven’t been back for more.

The fourth contact, a guy named Evan, recommended an EP by Sigur Rós, Rimur. Maybe some day it will be easily and affordably available.

Another gem was a message followed by a CD-R from Christopher Libertino. He’s known for his Alien Guitars loop discs and many soundtracks. You’ll also find some wonderful songs at his website. What grabbed me were the six recordings on the CD he sent, called Schism (three of which are posted on SoundCloud) of his poetry and sound design (and artwork). Here are two of them:

Yet another wonderful lead came from Wren Curtis regarding the work he and his brother have been doing with poet Lynn Martin. From a recent email: “We absolutely never rehearse – Lynn gives my brother the set list and a very brief overview as to the mood of the poem(s) about a week before a gig, my brother gives me a setlist 5 mintutes before we play with nothing but the title of the poem and a key, and off we go.” This is very different from how many of us work, alone in our private studios/bedrooms/garages, laying down one track at a time. I often forget about the performance side of things.

On the heels of that email was a message from saxophonist Hal McMillen, alias ThinMan-Studios, with a link to a track he and a friend had done, called Next Life. He came the closest to introducing me to the gold mine I was seeking, a place I’d already been: soundcloud.com.

The final message message was from Steven, who writes Christian-themed songs in a folk/alternative style. I agreed with him that poetry has long been associated with music in the form of song lyrics and that it’s possible poems were originally sung not spoken but that I’m still interested in spoken poetry. (I also think I offended him when I pointed out that I am an atheist and much of my writing is hostile to religion.)

That last message arrived the same day my younger daughter was hit by a car (many scrapes and bruises, a chipped thumb bone, and several broken metatarsals, the outermost being shattered and requiring a long convalescence—but, considering the possibilities, relatively minor injuries). That is, I stopped paying attention to poetry and music for several months.

My interest resumed in April when Mark Goodwin sent me a link to an essay by David McCooey, Fear of music: Sounded poetry and the “poetry soundtrack”. David had also come to the conclusion that what we are doing is hard to find and poorly documented, though he has also shown that we are not at an absolute beginning, that others have been here before. An interview of Mark Goodwin on the subject of Digitally Produced Audio Poetry also confirmed this (“I now have a problem – where do I send this stuff? (Any ideas will be gratefully received!) I’ve surfed the internet standing on my sore ears and as yet I’ve found very little out there that is quite like the stuff I’m producing”, to quote Mark).

Those two pieces, McCooey’s essay and Goodwin’s interview, left me in a very unsettled state. It made me start thinking that I need to do like Larry Crane when he founded TapeOp, not finding the information he was looking for (and certainly another way in which TapeOp led to the creation of this blog). Once I decided there needs to be some sort of publication on the subject and no one was offering to take it on, after a week’s poor sleeping, after researching the details of creating a blog (wordpress versus blogger or blogspot), after concluding that it doesn’t matter if I don’t have time for it…here it is.

We make the art as best we can, when we can (since it doesn’t pay), adding to the repertoire; airing it as we can, getting small attention via podcasts and community radio but primarily by posting on soundcloud.com. At soundcloud.com poetry groups have been formed. Mark is constantly browsing and recruiting for Air to Hear. We try to connect with friends and strangers.

And we create blogs.