“The artistic use of language, particularly the poetic use, resorts to sound properties which are ignored by normal use. Some such properties, like measure and rhythm, have been systematically exploited and strictly sanctioned, giving rise to meters, lines of verse, strophes, rhymes, assonances etc. Other properties, like timbres and sound qualities, have been submitted to rules or customs with less rigour, giving rise to more general patterns, like alliteration, play on words, and a great deal of combinations that have not been codified. There’s been very little reflection about other properties, such as tone, height, length of single sounds and only in recent times by experimental poetics. The oral territory... has not yet been attentively studied, in order to obtain common experience data, to be later translated into a pattern. Also in the executive phase it has been studied only in some fields, that are far from poetical experience: such as the repetitive ways of oral prayer, the breath oration suggested by Saint Ignatius from Loyola, the recto-tono reading, which was in great favour in the monks’ refectories. The question might be put in the following words, thinking about the compositive phase: can there exist a phonical instrumentation different from the structure of the verbal sense in a poetical text? Or also: is it possible to distinguish between the relationships that sounds maintain to one another and the relationships that the phonical combinations maintain with the meaning they carry?”.
Such thoughts by Giovanni Pozzi (“Poesia per gioco”, Il Mulino, 1984) may be useful when considering the specific element, which stands at the base of sound poetry, orality. In the background we find the rich gamut of possibilities we are offered by the “signifier patterns”, from onomatopoesis to syllabic crossings in polyphony, to the phonic symbolism ot the so-called imaginary languages (magical, mystical and utopical singsongs), from the creation of sesquipedalian words to the intensive use of words which produce, en masse, an exceptional effect, owing to their rare and curious phonical aspect; as for example it happens in “Adone”, by Marino or also in the “Leporeambi” by Leporeo. So the possibility of a sound instrumentation of a language altogether free from the organization of the meanings is demonstrated. But such an extensive territory (to which alliteration, paronomasia, consonance and rhyme are to be added) is available to any poet and does not characterize so much as orality the sound poet only.
De Saussure already stated that “language exercise is first of all a sound stream, a fact concerning the oral-aural, mouth-ear circuit, and renouncing orality in favour of writing involved a strong sensory deprivation, dispossessing man of a great part of the pleasure connected with the vocal act” (Renato Barilli, introduction to “Futura, poesia sonora”, Milan, 1978).
The sound poet then intends to redeem the spoken word, but by abandoning himself to the flow of the sound stream of the speech he steps into an intermediate zone, where many arts cross each other, straying from their own codes, from poetry to music, to dance, to painting, etc... So the poet is no longer alone with his word, he must manage at the same time tone, timbre, rhythm of the voice, his own scenic space, the light he is lit by and also the complex relationship established with the public: he’s “a moving voice” (G. Fontana: “La voce in movimento, vocalità, scrittura e struttura intermediali nella sperimentazione poetico-sonora”, Harta Performing-Momo, Monza 2003).
Marinetti (1876-1944) in his manifesto of “Declamazione dinamica e sinottica” (Dynamic and synoptic declamation) prescribes the futurist poet a mechanical gestural art, altogether opposing the old fashioned (“passatista”) declamation, which “always comes down to an unavoidable monotony, of high and low, to a coming and going of gestures, a deadly boredom to the rocky stupidity of the public attending lectures”. Futurist evening performances are well known. But well before them Mallarmé had staged a visual drama of words and silences (the blanks of the page) in the series of sequences of his “Coup de dés”, an extreme present by symbolism to the future of poetry, a present that is already a gesture and a scenery and a film event in the succession of pages. (See Glossary).
The sound poet, in a not much different situation, stands at the crossroads of mass media communication systems, in a friction zone where arts exceeding beyond their limits invade each other; and so, in writing these notes, we are confronted by a first decision: either to support a system of artistic practice, as proposed by a body policy, investigating the relationships between gesture and voice, oral rhythmic patterns, breathing, where sound is the unifying principle, by bestowing a privilege on a primary orality and referring to the phonetism of historical avant-gardes; or to select a technological orality, where multi-lingual devices of arts and genres that cannot be separated, in order to define meanings prevail. But this is not a final dilemma. The Second World War was just over and already the electronic technology was offering some media, the tape-recorder to begin with, which would give the poets possibilities to fix all the powers of the voice, that a moment before were only suggested on an opto-phonic level; as for instance the polyphonic scores of French simultaneists, or of the Italian futurist “parolibere” tables.
So a complete series of research is born, which gradually cause the poet to broaden more and more his own phonic space. For instance it’s evident that an author like Henri Chopin (1922), who builds his “Audiopoèmes” by accumulating polyphony in an exasperated manner, and by electronically manipulated vocal variations, could not exist without such technological media. But paradoxically it’s also true that the consequent result intends to express, with a maximum of versatility, the body voices, as the author calls them. (P.1)
So each author can take from electronical media only what is necessary for his purpose. But sound poetry was not born with the tape-recorder; and so linear poetry was not born with writing, or with the invention of the press, but with the will to act beyond the limits of the page, towards other dimensions, where the word becomes a show subject, to be seen and listened to, not only to be read.
But was such will unavoidable or a sheer gratuitous act? We must go back to the beginning of the twentieth century and try to point out a series of co-ordinates, which run across the history of modern literature, in the breaking moment brought about by the explosion of the avant-gardes.
One of these courses consists in becoming aware of a crisis of the ego, in the field of the novel, in the field of the theatre (crisis of the hero: one, nobody and one hundred thousand) or in the field of poetry. With this situation another different course is related, determined by a condition of discontent and disappointment, which in its turn is expressed in grotesque, absurd and nonsense patterns. In a parallel, a trend is manifested to break and build up again the word in itself, as a matter and a tool to be rediscovered, in its most detailed mechanisms; that’s what the Orphic French simultaneism, the Italian futurism, the Russian zaum propose. To the same trend belongs the stress being given to onomatopoesis and sound-effects (rumorismo). The rediscovery of orality, as a subordination of the word to the sense of intonation and to the rhythm of the diction is more associated with the field of sound poetry, and more recently, in the second post-war period, a rereading of the historical avant-gardes takes place mostly thanks to the “Fluxus” movement; and the media phenomenon is enhanced, by a proposal of such patterns as event, happening, performance.
Crisis of the ego
It is possible to find, within each single trend some authors whose work shows some subterrannean correspondences. And so, within the phenomenon that can be labelled as crisis of the ego, it seems right to us to go back to the second half of the ninetieth century, when the crisis broke out loudly with three decisive authors: Dostoevskij, Nietzsche and Rimbaud. The motif of the psychological duplicity and splitting up between being and seeming in the character, which will be afterwards the theme of Pirandello’s theatre, is exasperated by Dostoevskij. The very ego becomes a scenic space, where the mind splits up into distinct but always associated dilemmas, by which consciousness is rent, including also the “acte gratuit” which Gide will take up. Along this rough path it will not be difficult to discover also Céline’s hectic, syncopated raving monologue, wholly moulded after language as it is spoken, and Artaud’s jerky condition, transgressive from the colloquial rule diction, tending to subvert thought and logic altogether; his proposition of a “cruelty theatre” might fall within the polyphonic arena of the insubordinate voices of the Dostoevskian ego. (P. 2).
In parallel, in his radical denial of tradition, which he considers as a sheer dead-weight, the Rimbaudian figure of the seer-poet wants personally to bring about the same “dérèglement de tous les sens” (the unruledness of every sense) that we find in the futurist poetics of “parolibere”. Rimbaud’s nihilist crisis is the negative moment of a culture which denies itself, in the name of an ego who is an ever-fleeting another.
We find, among Nietzsche’s principal concepts, elaborated in his Heraclitean language of bright aphorisms, such concepts as “God’s death”, “will to power”, “superman”, and also his polemic against rationalism, by which a human objective order would be supposed, so depriving historical action of any meaning. By his “God’s death” Nietzsche proposes to transfer to man the values of genealogy of morals and responsibility on his own existence, in a continuous process of self-surpassing, of will to power in constant evolution, a condition accepted by the Uebermensch (the over-man, the super-man) with a Dionysiac transport.
Futurism, in this sense, is a strongly Nietzschean avant-garde and comes forth as the most subversive movement against tradition, but in the same time as a reorganization of the artistic parameters that has just finished to upset; so that its position may result in spanning both the denouncement of a crisis concerning every artistic expressions and the necessity of an aesthetic reconstruction; our intention has been to propose this movement according to this second side.
In a very different and not explicit but still underlying context, analogous denonciations appear in the second half of the twentieth century in the radical experimentalism of the American artist William Burroughs (1914-1997). (P. 3)
Burroughs was among the first to act according to a pattern of sound poetry, that is known as “phatic poem”, where the text is dependent on the sense of intonation, by establishing an emotional communication precisely faithful to his existential situation. These kinds of “reading” are quite different declamations from those being stigmatized by Marinetti in the above-mentioned manifesto of the “dynamic and synoptic declamation”. Indeed, Marinetti’s declamation was a form of “phatic poem”, as much as Artaud’s particularly expressive intensity and also John Giorno’s (1936) obsessive, hypnotic, rhythmical reiteration.
The “Phatic poem” may be found also in Europe, in the first Julien Blaine’s shouts (1942), whose cries, “if they take a challenging tone, in order to assert themselves and because of bodily extolling, and also of denouncement, as signals of a lack of measure and signals of transgression, on the other hand they propose themselves as a warm-heartedly human call, as a declaration of engagement or a straight act of love” (G. Fontana “La voce in movimento” cit., p. 89).
Another French author, Joel Hubaut (1947) (P.4) composes his readings with a kind of phrase accumulations by overlappings and at the same time with a progression of sound volume up to a stage of orgiastic paroxysm. Italian artist Lello Voce in his turn proposes “oratura”, an oral re-writing of a text that identifies itself in this “oratura”.
Coming back to American reading experiments, Anna Waldman, a very good performer, too, writes about “beat” writing: “natural rhythms of the American speech, jazz rhythms, rhythms of travelling in a truck, industrial rhythms, rhapsodies, clever juxtapositions of verbal cut-ups and a warmness reflecting the primeval chaos, all that is constantly used. It’s a kind of writing that sneers at the self-satisfied style” (in AA.VV. “The beat book”, a cura di A. Waldman, Il Saggiatore, 1996). (P. see Glossary).
But the true prompter of the “phatic poem” is Jack Kerouac (1922-69), who did not consider jazz as a plain inspiration fountain-head; he thought that this kind of music was to be considered a model for writing. So he analyzed the rhythm and phrasing of his friend composers’improvisations, in their resonance and emotional density. In his thirty points of the “doctrine and technique of modern prose” (in “Writing bop, lezioni of creative writing”, Milan, 1996) Kerouac writes: “Blow as hard as you want (as the jazzman “blows” his notes), write what you like without end from the bottom of your mind... do not stop to think about words, but to better focus on the general plan... compose in an unrestrained way; pure wild, starting from the bottom; the crazier, the better”.
One is reminded here of Analogous recommendations by Marinetti, given in the manifesto “Wireless imagination and parolibere” are here reminded; there he brings the instance of a person anxious about expressing his emotions, provoked by a traumatic event he has just been present at: “he will begin by brutishly destroying syntax while speaking. He will not waste his time to build up sentences. He will not care a hoot about punctuation and adjectives. He will scorn any polish and language nuance and in a rush he will anxiously trow into your nerves his visual, auditive, olfactory sensations, his lightning-swift impressions, according to their pressing stream. The vehemence of the emotion-vapour will blow up the sentence tube, the punctuation fuses and the regular bolts of adjective use. The narrator will only care to convey all the shocks and all the vibrations of his ego”.
Fontana writes: “... reading is more an automatic than interpretive fact, in relation to the weight of vocal dictation, interwoven in the line” (p. 189). It is the “weight” of intonation that shapes the reality of the text: sense goes to where tone bids, see lecture by Tzara: “Thought is born in the mouth”. In a short but very intense choral text by Carlfriedrich Claus (1930-1998) (in “Lautgedichten” 1965) the collective cry is a pure sound expressionism, whilst in some other tests Claus composes vocal ballets, by geometrical patterns. (P. 5)
In 1966 the sound poem “à.a.A.” is published by Patrizia Vicinelli, taped on a flexible disc, enclosed in the “Marcatrè” magazine on the 26th -29th issue (P. see Glossary). She herself writes: “...this research of mine aims at stirring up the beginning more than the end of the poetical discourse... it is different the reality that we catch a glimpse of in the crack of this narrow door... phrase claims to go beyond... and to die for good... a kind of stuttering phonematic micropictography sprouts from its semantic protoplasm ... an ideal letter, I’d say conceived in the creative act itself”. (P. see Glossary).
Text-sound work, for Sten Hanson (1936), a musician, a sound poet and a co-founder of the Swedish group Fylkingen and of the homonymous festivals of sound poetry, must be run according to compositive strategies such as the articulation of language microparticles and prelinguistic sounds, time manipulation and polyphony, which is strongly expressionist when being listened to.
The sound poem, with the Estonian Ilmaar Laaban (1929-2000), becomes a space of intercrossing voices and the word, exhausted by the travail of its own making, sees the light in the diction agony, bearing the memory of the ancestral yell. (P. 6)
Luigi Pasotelli’s (1926-1993) sound ballads, signed by a “rocailleuse” voice, are made by a mix of languages, dialects, neologisms, echolalic sounds, in a sound continuum among nightmares and grotesque and satirical imaginations. Pasotelli relied also on the weight of his massive scenic presence and on the intensity of the hollow timbre of his voice, by which he sketched a queerly wild beast’s world, his “Serragli”. (P. 7)
Another reading protagonist is the Hungarian artist Endre Szkarosi (1952), who uses his voice as a multiplier of the spectacular dimension, extolling by loudly imposing his stage presence the role of the elements he employs in the performance: videos, pictures, lights, scenic machines, as a media counterpoint” (G. Fontana, p. 72-3, “La voce in movimento”, cit.). Aggressive atmospheres are loved by Szkarosi, between irony and dramatic action. (P. 8).
The poetic “rap” of the young Swiss man Jurzog may be included in this kind of phatic poetry; on a raging rhythmical base he inserts an accordingly obsessive recitative.
Patterns of the grotesque, of the absurd, of the nonsense
Such patterns are the sign of a restless and disappointed mood towards the social and cultural condition prevailing in Victorian England, in Biedermeier Germany and in a generally positivist situation. Nonsense is a logic of the incongruous, the imagination of the absurd; it’s enough to think that the author of “Alice in Wonderland” was a logician and a mathematician. Nonsense is thought to be a typical Anglo-Saxon expression, but we find a lot of nonsense also in Germany; as to Italy, we might remember a fifteenth century forerunner, Burchiello; his “poetare alla burchia” (to compose alla burchia) found many also celebrated imitators, as for instance Alberti. But also in modern times we find this nonsense poem by Yorik (Pietro Ferrigni, 1836-1895): “A ship that sets sail from the port/hopping with a Scottish step/it’s like taking a long born borrow/and pay it at the end of the month./ Socrates’ jump/Juda’s kiss/the woman is naked./Waterloo!”
Two images might fix the nonsense spirit: the episode of the Cheshire cat, in “Alice in Wonderland”, who lying down on a low wall sneers and then, bit by bit, beginning with the tail, disappears altogether, save for the sneer; the other is that which Valéry deduces from it as a corollary: if the world was created from nothingness, nothingness, if we look well at it, nothingness gleams through, as its watermark. The doubt of not being wears down not so much the “magnifiche sorti e progressive” (grand and progressive fate), as the embankments represented by the various methaphisics of being. We may discover a whole proto-dada background, from the German Paul Scheebart (1863-1915) and Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914) to the Russian Aleksej Kručenych and Ilya Zdanovich (1894-1975) (Iliazd), indicating only the sound artists. Scheerbart, with three novels written in 1897-1902, introduces some totally abstract phono-poems; Morgenstern, in his “Grotesque songs” (1905) offers us the abstract poem “Das grosse Lalulà” and the visual poem “Night song of the fish”, which is composed only by the “long-short” signs of quantitative classic metrics, “essential model to set the time element within the space element... casting a doubt on the survival of word as a poetical instrument by definition” (Adriano Spatola).
The Russian Kručenych (P. see Glossary), co-author with Chlebnikov of zaum (trans-mental language) writes some poems made up only of consonants, or nonsense word-medleys, like “a broken brake which causes a fall of consonant shrill sounds”, which he names “smottologie” (unwordologies), a landslip into the incongruous of maimed words, in the most absurd way.
Iliazd (P. see Glossary) gives us a radical formulation of zaum. Musical effects of polyphonic speech are most important for him in the composition of texts, in order to create a subtle play of accords and discords, underlined by the unison overlapping of vowels or syllables. The still more peculiar graphic solution of the printed text is derived from this peculiar voice scoring. In the printed text, like in a musical score, voices are printed with big letters superimposed, indicating the common consonance of two or more voices.
It’s evident that we have shifted from the apparent amusement of carreless and playful Lear’s nonsense, or other authors of the same time, to a more determined tone, aiming at sheer abstraction, or at removing the word. The word is replaced by different signs, going from a semantic absurd to a paradox of signifying gesture; and in Kručenych this is already a disfigurement of the word.
Obviously the passage to dada was unavoidable, and in addition it was imposed by the immense absurdity of the first world war. With dada, born not casually in Zurich, in neutral Swissland, owing to exiles from every region of Europe, the absurdity of being becomes the central theme of a culture, which is but sheer reaction and incoherent gesture. With Hugo Ball’s (1886-1927), Raul Hausmann’s (1886-1971), (P. 9), Kurt Schwitters’ (1887 phonetic poetry is born, while Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) prefers to insist on absurd meetings of meanings (an upside-down semantics) with his poem: “La première aventure céleste de M. Antipyrine” or the simultaneous three voice text “L’amiral cherche une maison à louer”, a six-hand composed text with Marcel Janco and Richard Huelsenbeck (P. 10). Ball’s phonetic poems are instead a series of abstract euphonies; starting from the sound of an invented word, from which will euphonically depend the words following in the line, the first word “gives the A” to the other ones. Cangiullo already had spoken of the “natural” music of the speech, and Luigi Russolo, in his “Arte dei rumori” (1913) had written that: “there exists in the language a timbre richness that no orchestra possesses... nature has given this instrument, the human voice, unique timbre sounds... poets have not yet been able to draw out of this inexhaustible fountain-head the expressive and emotional elements that could give their message a human resonance”.
They try to underline to the utmost the listening system that a poet continuously lives in, as if he were a biological resonator: in the beginning the poem is always a consonant noise, subject to the acoustic influence of a vowel. The abstract sense of a consonant becomes a body and an idea by taking on concrete form in the union with the vowel. We have the syllable which, stripped of every signification, may give rise to a new poetical projection, because of its nature of timbre noise. As in painting the plastic and chromatic values become absolute protagonists of the abstract picture, so the timbre, tonal and rhythmic values if they are used by themselves, without any semantic and syntactic encumbrance, announce the future phonic poem. Ball limits himself only to widen the euphonic process of the syllable-word to the whole line.
According to Hugo Ball “we must draw back into the deepest word alchemy, keeping for poetry its most sacred ground”, the same programme of Velemir Chlebnikov (1885-1922), “eternal prisoner of assonance”, for whom the alphabet is a “table of sounds”. Actually, dadaism takes from the futurists Balla and Depero and from Chlebnikov the alogical phonics, abstract sound poetry; we must also remember that in the Cabaret Voltaire simultaneous poems by the French poet Henri Martin Barzun and “Ubu Roi” by Jarry were declaimed. “Les chants nègres” were a collective creation, with masks, gowns, drums, dances: a kind of funeral Mass, not unmindful, I think, of the futurist nights of 1913-14. In this setting Ball read his “Wordless lines”, putting on a blue, scarlet and gilded cardboard dress and a cylindrical shaman hat: “I began with ‘Gadji beri bimba’, accents grew more and more heavy, expression more and more serious, and consonants were intensified (P. 11). Very soon I noticed, that my means of expression, when I meant to be serious, and I wanted to be serious at any price, did no longer correspond to the pompousness of the mise-en-scène... on my right, on the book-rest, I had ‘Labadas Gesangen den Wolken’ and on my left ‘Elephanten Karawane’... (P. see Glossary) the trailing rhythm of the elements lent me a last crescendo, but how to go on to the end? Then I noticed that my voice, although it looked like there was no other choice for it, was taking on a kind of ancient priestly lamentation cadence, in the Mass style, as it’s sung in the Catholic churches. I don’t know what it was that inspired me such music, but I was singing the vowel sequences as in a liturgical recitative. The electric light went out as planned and I was carried away as a magical bishop dripping with sweat, disappearing in the abyss” (from “Die Flucht auf der Zeit” – “Escape in the time”, Munich, 1927).
From that moment to the sound poet the possibility to improvise or to build up personal languages of sheer phonemes, of abstract sense; the significant makes off and gains a semantic space which is composed by the “fattura”
( piece of witchcraft) that each author likes to compose. (P. 12)
So Raoul Hausmann will improvise, in pure dada style, a series of absurd talks, composed by alphabetical ballets; so the dada Kurt Schwitters (P. 13) will compose with the alphabet a classical sonata, the “Ursonate”, an ancestral sonata (1925-27), a strong point of some contemporary sound poets, like Giuliano Zosi and Jaap Blonk.
Equally, in the second post-war period, some French authors, gone out of the lettrist group, the so-called “ultra-lettrists” will improvise a series of texts made up of an informal mix of cries, sighs, glossolalic acrobatics: such as the “Instrumentations verbales”, by Jean-Louis Brau, the “Mégapneumies” by Gil Wolman (1929-1995) and most of all the “Crirythmes” by François Dufrêne (1930-1982).
Already the lettrist leader Isidore Isou (1925) (P. see Glossary) had introduced some sounds from the international phonetic alphabet, and also shouting, grunting, coughing, snoring, moaning, gargling, gasping, and so on in his poem “Larmes de jeunes filles, poème clos”. Lettrists are distinguished from the ultra-lettrists by the fact that, although they compose abstract poetry, strangely they are still anchored to the traditional form of poetry, to the sonnet, for instance, in a clear contradiction with themselves. Nevertheless we must notice that many lettrist compositions, as “Rituel somptueux pour la sélection des espèces” by Isou or the “Marche des barbares blancs” by Maurice Lemaître (1928) are works of a peculiar expressive intensity. (P. 14-15)
In the second post-war period there happened a re-reading of dadaism with some authors like the painter Mimmo Rotella (1918-2005), the French Michel Seuphor (1901-1980), the Canadian group “the four horsemen” composed by the quartet bp Nichol (1944-1988), Steve McCaffery (1948), Paul Dutton and Rafael Barreto-Rivera. This group (P. 16), that was dissolved because of the sudden death of Nichol, acted in a phonetic counterpoint, creating some timbre mixings and new multi-rhythmical effects.
In his manifesto of “Epistaltismo” Rotella forebodes a revolution of the syntax and of the lexicon, supporting a wholly to be invented new language. His new dada reading is wholly ironical and comical.
The critic and painter Michel Seuphor, co-founder of the abstractist group “Cercle et Carré” already in 1927 had composed a series of “rumoristic” sound poems, as “Tout en roulant les RR”, some with the accompaniment of the apparatus “Russolophone” by Luigi Russolo (1930).
Paolo Albani (1946) refers to the informal soul of nonsense. He is a member of the international “Oulipo” group and uses some techniques of semantic surprise, with some enjoyable effects as in “Carillon”, all a “plin plin” which, according to its author, “must not be read, absolutely; but only listened to with the eyes”; or as the “Dubbi esistenziali di un’oca francese” (existential doubts of a French goose), which is a sequence of “quoi? quoi? pourquoi?”. (P. see Glossary).
Corrado Costa (1929-1991) as well, “a shrewd and subtle pen... starting from some clear and bright writings, with his placid moods and his Emilian accent, left indelible sound marks, going through the order of the things and stretching surreal veils, as a joyful, but elusive and disturbing phantom” (Fontana, p. 209).
Two, both Viennese , authors offer some similarities, although they are endowed with quite autonomous styles: both are very good language histrions, both in elocution and as language transmogrifiers: Ernst Jandl (1925-2000) and Gerhard Rühm (1930). Jandl (P. see Glossary) wandering among the words, fishes out plays on words, discovering there hidden resonances, sometimes wandering into nonsense. His vocal poems – Lautgedichte – gain more relief owing to an elocution rich in nuances, such as variations in the tone and in the gesture of the voice, so to speak, and also in the cadences which suggest an expressive way, ruled by irony: for instance, nursery-rhymes composed with bits of names as “Ode auf N”, ode to Napoleon, where the whole name never appears, or the letter permutation of the word “film” which becomes, also visually, a long strip, to symbolize the motion picture film. (P. 17)
Gerhard Rühm, a composer, a poet, a theatre producer and a sketcher, was born in Vienna in 1930 and was co-founder of the Wiener Gruppe (1967), a kind of experimental cabaret, which has marked an important cultural moment in Vienna. His first sound poems (1950) are written in the Viennese dialect, but soon the linguistic material is organised to lose any sense, owing to complex phonic permutations and combinations. Tone and timbre of the pronunciation give the word a kind of acoustic eroticism, completely new. His voice is calm and monotonous, without any pathetic effects, a “chamber voice”. Some surprising effects spring out from the invention of scenic actions: for instance, he is sitting behind a table, a book is open before him; he holds in his right hand a sound toy and with its sound he underlines the borborygmi of a new born baby; or also, after laying on the table a ticking time stamp, he begins reading short notices in the daily newspapers about politics, about economics or crime or sports news, always following the time stamp rhythm, and so the prose bit is permuted into verse, by doubling some syllables of the text. Diction goes on, always changing the rhythm, more or less rapidly. In his performances Rühm underlines an unusual taste function of the voice, playing with it like a clown with his tools. (P. 18)
Subversion and reconstruction of the word
First part: Simultaneism
In the first years of the twentieth century a whole series of analyses is developed of the mechanisms regulating the poetical communication. Akin to such proposals as the “rumorismo” and of abstract gesture of the significant there stands also French simultaneism. About 1912 Henri Martin Barzun feels the necessity to adjust both forms and techniques of the poetical composition to the ever increasing social complexity, which is not at all unanimous nor can be reduced to the individuum. In the “Villes Tentaculaires” (1896) Emile Verhaeren had already painted in his linear poetry the new world of workmen’s syndicalism, of intellectual and scientific internationalism, of the industrial trusts, of the rapid technological development, giving rise to the invention of car, airplane, radio etc...
According to Barzun (1881-1974) the monotonous poem becomes psychologically speaking false and tecnically impotent to convey such social complexities and his solution is to replace the verse form with a concerted chorus of either concordant or dissonant poetical voices. In 1912-14 Barzun, with Sébastien Voirol and Fernand Divoire founds the magazine “Poème et Drame”, where such themes are discussed, particularly in three essays: “L’Ere du Drame”, “Du Symbol au Drame”, and “Voix, Rythmes et Chants simultanés, Esthétique de la Poésie Dramatique”. The idea of simultaneous poetry is born, where the line successive process of the traditional form is replaced by a “chant dramatique simultané”, in order to convey “toutes les voix, toutes les passions, toutes les présences, toutes les forces de cette vie et de cet univers”, thanks to “l’ampleur polyphonique” and to the “lyrisme multiple pluridimensionnel: ainsi les ordres psychologiques fondamentaux, à l’état de voix et de présences poétiques simultanées, dramatisent l’oeuvre". As the simultaneous faces of the polymorphous matter and the simultaneous contrasts of complementary colours are expressed by the cubists, so life must be directly expressed by the poet and the line must be replaced by “la voix, réalité plastique du poème”.
In 1922-23 at the theatre “Art et Action” producers Edouard Autant and Louise Lara, parents of the future producer Claude, adapt to the scene the third episode, “Panharmonie Orphique” of the great simultaneous poem “Orphéide”, by Barzun, which had been composed in the years 1913-14 (P. see Glossary), 18 voices of masked actors declaiming, in a cubist mise-en-scène, sketched by the musicalist painter Henri Valensi. The whole poem was exposed afterwards, on September 1927, in a handwritten version of 250 tables, each of 20 x 50 cm. Paradoxically, the poem is still unpublished: there are 422 pages, grouped in 7 fresco-episodes, each one possessing a precise visual structure, which is completely perceptible only if the single pages are aligned in a single succession: then 7 giant visual poems appear. Each page shows vertically aligned, as if they were the notes of a musical score, more simultaneous voices, from two up to eighteen voices. Action is divided among the voices, words often evaporate into onomatopoesis, or between voice and voice, giving rise to a pluralism of correlated expressions.
Poetical Orphism, as the author calls it, referring to the symbol of the seven strings of Orpheus’ lyre, begins a third verbal dimension, after the monodic succession and the dramatic alternation; the passage to the collective song is orchestrated through space-temporal relationships: foreground and background voices, humourous onomatopoeses in the background, with a clever direction of the verbal sonorities, a true music of the spoken language. The text then is an optophonical visualization of the simultaneous action and a cinematographic succession of photogram-pages at the same time.
Fernand Divoire (1883-?), a pioneer of the “Radiophonie” is one of the authors who accept Barzun simultaneist proposal. In 1914 he publishes in the IX cahier of “Poème et Drame” a poem dedicated to Isadora Duncan, the famous dancer, “Exhortation à la Victoire” (P. see “ The avant-gardes and the poetic iconism”). This work, composed by soloist moments and choruses of male and female voices, was performed in a matinée by the theatre company “Art et Liberté” on June third 1917 at the Comédies des Champs Elysées, along with Barzun’s “Montagne” and Voirol’s “Sacre du Primtemps”. Other simultameist compositions followed: the symphonic prose “Naissance du poème”, which was afterwards recorded on disc “La voix de son maître” in 1931, one of the very first sound poetry disc: in this text there is not any hierarchy among the voice of the poet, who is creating his work and the voice of the eleven Muses who suggest him the words. Then: “Les amis et les Ennemis” (1921), “Commentaire du Pater” (1927) “Ivoire au Soleil” (1922), “Poème à trois plans concentriques” and finally “Marathon, épisode tragique” (1924), which compares Athen’s victory against the Persians with the victory in the Marna in the First World War (transmitted by Eiffel Radio in three instalments in 1931. In 1913 Barzun’s magazine “Poème et Drame” puts out a fragment of the simultaneist poem by Sébastien Voirol “Le Sacre du Printemps” (idem) a few months after the Paris performance of the famous Strawinskij ballet. The text was preceded by a short comment: “... l’idée nous est venue de suggérer une forme poétique permettant de superposer des rythmes et des sonorités, de faire éclater orchestralement des harmonies verbales, ou plutôt vocales, multiples, intenses de vie, en accordant leurs sens tantôt aigus, tantôt douleureux, dans des proportions inouïes jusqu’à ce jour... Les superpositions des rythmes, les enchevêtrements des thêmes, les ruptures des cadences admirés chez un Strawinsky, appartiennent indiscutablement à tous les arts; ils viennent de renouveler la musique dans le temps même où votre (he’s addressing Barzun) esthétique nous apporte la promesse d’une poésie polyrythmique qui ouvre aux poètes un horizon inexploré...” (“The idea came to us of suggesting a poetical form allowing to superimpose some rhythms and sonorities, so that multiple and lively verbal harmonies, still better vocal harmonies, may resound in the orchestra, according their sometimes keen, sometimes painful senses in an amazing proportion until now unheard... Rhythm superimpositions, theme networks, cadence breaks, which are admired in Strawinsky, unquestionably are found in all the arts; they are renewing music in the very moment that your (he’s addressing Barzun) aesthetics brings us the promise of a polyrhythmic poetry, opening an unexplored horizon to the poets...”. (“A propos du ‘Sacre du Printemps’, “Poème et Drame”, 1913). In this Orphic work, as well as in two other successive passages, “Ladies in the wind” and in “Tahi-Nui” ballet, both unpublished, there appears a mani-coloured writing, to distinguish characters and moods, and an orchestration of motifs like a play of voice superimpositions by assonance and subtle euphonic harmonies denote in this author an amalgam of two apparently contrary requirements, that’s to say the persistency of some delicate psychological nuances of an ego that is still a symbolist ego and adherence to the new Orphic ideas.
Nicolas Beaudoin (1880-1960), who in 1911 furthered the “Paroxysme” movement, put out on his magazine “La vie des lettres, nouvelle série VIII”, février 1922, a series of “Poèmes synoptiques sur plusieurs plans”, where “plans” means levels, a series of proceedings of simultaneousness, with two or more voices. Here are some titles: “Au jardin qui réjouit le coeur” and “Music-halls”.
On January 1916, Pierre Albert-Birot (1876-1957) founds “Sic”, a monthly magazine which in four years marks an important page in literary history, not only in French history. The magazine stands at the crossroads among futurism, dada and surrealism, by issuing the first texts by Philippe Soupault, Raymond Radiguet, Reverdy, Drieu La Rochelle, Paul Dermée, Aragon and many texts by Apollinaire, Tzara and by the Italian futurists, but also some engravings by Severini, Balla, Prampolini, Depero, Survage, Zadkine. As suggested by the titles of his poems, which are at the same time visual and sound texts, Albert-Biro’s taste is akin to the futurist taste and particularly similar to Balla’s and Depero’s abstract verbalizations: “L’avion”, “Chant I”, “Métro”, “Balalaika”, all simultaneist texts. (P. 19).
The idea of polyphonic poetry was recovered in the second post-war period by the musician Arthur Pétronio (1897-1983), the son of the famous quick-change artist Fregoli, with the “Verbophonie Syncrétique”, his works starting from 1964: “Tellurgie”, “Nouvelle Innocence”, “Cosmomose” are verbo-sound (verbo-rumoristic) polyphonies, with a symphonic character. His first idea goes back to 1919 with “la corse à la lune”, a six-voice work, plus contrabass and drums percussion section, performed at the Amsterdam Salle Heystée. Originally an intuition by Kandinsky and Pétronio in an Amsterdam coffee house in 1917, while they were listening to a recital in different languages by a group of artists; who were reciting a “Poème-Conversation” by Apollinaire. They noticed that in the confused murmur of conversations the vowel play stands out and creates a sound surrounding that is similar to a verbal symphony. Kandinsky prompted to Pétronio the idea of a noise symphony, where words were to be considered only as occasions to enhance the phonematic matter that lies underneath. (P. 20) The French artist Bernard Heidsieck’s (1928) “Poème-Partition” is made of obsessive iterations of everyday life tissue; polyrhythm is due to a reading that is played on different acoustic levels, a kind of interior theatre of consciousness; it wouldn’t be inappropriate to refer for this to the idea of “aloud writing” expressed by Barthes in his “Plaisir du texte” (1973), where he speaks about the voice “grain” as an erotical timbre and language mix. (P. 21)
Another author of refined “Text Sound Compositions” is the American artist Charles Amirkhanian (1945): his composition is wholly played on exact rhythmic counterpoints of a scanty verbal matter: a sound poetry which is an instance of clearness in the assembling of word-sound machines. In 1960 the German artist Ferdinand Kriwet (1942) published his “Sehtexten” (visual texts), some concrete poems which renew a calligraphical tradition of the Middle Ages of circular forms. His subsequent “Hörtexten” (texts to be listened to) are composed by collages of sound matter that has been collected in the most different situations, for instance during football matches or political meetings. Particularly intense conversations in which many voices cross, in different vocal timbres and tones. Kriwet in his performances goes on with simultaneous projections of photograms on more than a single screen, on walls and ceilings, creating some ever-changing subdivisions of the word-phonic-visual discourse, a “Texttheater”, by whose co-ordinates speech, mimicry, gesture and visual elements are organized. (P. see Glossary). Nanni Balestrini (1935) had already composed in 1963 his “chronograms”, visual poetry collages made by overlapped and intersected phrase fragments, creating effects of a chaotic and absurd semantics that remind us of Tzara’s dada poetry, and also, on a different level, of the more recent “Poesia encontrada” by the Portuguese artist Antonio Aragao. Balestrini is par excellence an experimental poet and in sound poetry he is interested in dense polyphonic textures; such is for instance a four-voice wholly whispered composition. (P. 22)
Word subversion and rebuilding.
Second part: Futurism
Among Marinetti’s ideas that are still interesting to us is the “lyric obsession of the matter” that the futurist poet must possess, with the analogy device, “this deep love by which far off things are tied”; through it he will be able to “animalize, vegetalize, mineralize, electrify and liquefy his style”. Matter itself is pantheistically felt as animated, bodily partecipating with the ego, in a metaphorical world of undifferentiated subjectivities and objectivities; so that the “parole in libertà” appear to be like phono-mimetical records of moods, where the ego disappears, giving rise to the drift of psychic automatism, a kind of magnetic attraction of lyrical situations; a condition that is called “agrammatism” by Roman Jacobson; it’s a condition where the phrase degrades to a simple heap of words. In the poem “Zang Tumb Tuuum” (1914) the magmatic state of the expressive matter is worked with two techniques, a montage with mood intersections and a plurivocal simultaneousness. The first is well evident in the final part of the second chapter “Mobilitazione” (“Mobilization”), that’s to say in the “Carta sincrona” (“Synchronic Paper”), where synaesthetic effects are also at play: “man of golden silence”, “fall of greenish sounds”, “tired parable of blue sounds”, “puddle of dirty sounds”. Another montage example is found in the chapter “War smuggling (Rotterdam)”, the clever great idea of a kind of mood book-keeping, imitating the form of the commercial double-entry ledger (P. See “Avant-garde and poetic iconism”). Simultaneist technique is present both in the first chapter “Proof reading + swiftness wishes”, and in the two final pages of the chapter “Bridge”, where eight voices synchronically express different moods. “Zang Tumb Tuuum” is the peak of the technical “parolibere” solutions and for Julius Evola (“Arte Astratta”, 1920) it is “a brutal purifying plunge of orgiastic subjectivity”, where the primitive element espouses the geometric abstraction in a kind of poetical “Sacre du Printemps”. The two, both visual and phonic aspects, are intimately connected, as far as visuality, resolved in outcomes of “free, expressive-mimo-declaimed typography”, Marinetti being a master in this art. The pages run on in a series of type alterations and typographical chiaroscuri, suggesting the most different possibilities of uttering the voice. From another point of view, the poem may be considered a film sequence of graphic images, analogous with the simultaneous poem “Orphéide” by Barzun. Among the futurist three authors can be distinguished, as far as the phonic aspect of words is concerned: Balla, Cangiullo, Depero. Balla for his linguistic “rumorismo”, Cangiullo for his “Piedigrotta” and Depero for his onomatopoetic exasperation.
“Piedigrotta” is a great poem, each page being a “parolibera” table, complete in itself, but also participating in the whole work sequence. The text may be defined as a firework explosion of great both graphic and phonic ideas, in a strictly connected analogy with the famous Neapolitan festival. Not by chance it was at the center of two famous soirées, at the futurist permanent exhibition salon in Rome, on March 29th and on April 5th 1914. (P. See “The avant-garde and the poetical iconism”). The “Poesia pentagrammata” is introduced by a short essay, stating: “... ‘pentagrammed’ Poetry... giving simultaneousness to Poetry and its natural Music, a music which is contained in Poetry by nature, adds a new extension of virgin land to the poetical field”. Here the notion of “natural music”, inborn in language, gives us a definition of the matter on which the sound poet works, on the specific characters of the language as it is spoken, which must not be confused with the artificial quality of the song.
Word subversion and rebuilding
Third part: onomatopoeia and “rumorismo”
In 1916 Fortunato Depero (1892-1960), painter, publishes the manifesto: “L’onomalingua, verbalizzazione astratta”; “onomalingua” is derived from onomatopeia, from “rumorismo”, from the brutality of futurist parolibere. It’s the language of natural forces: wind, rain, sea, river, brook, etc..., of the noisy artificial man-made beings: bicycles, tramcars, trains, cars and all kind of machines; it’s the ensemble of all the emotions and sensations that are expressed with a more rudimentary and more effective language. Depero created and declaimed these original compositions before enthusiastic and before adverse crowds. In the monologues of clowns and comic variety actors we notice some typical hints to the “onomalingua”, which will be developed in the future, and are the most successful stage language, particularly with the more amusing exaggerations. With onomalingua it is possible to speak and effectively to agree with the elements of the world, with animals and with machines. Onomalingua is a poetical language of universal understanding, and no translators are needed”. (P. 23)
It appears evident to us, starting from this introduction, the narrow analogy with the idea of “lyric obsession of matter” being theorized by Marinetti. In his “abstract verbalizations” the process of formation of lexical unities by which onomatopoeia is made is driven by Depero to a paroxysm: the thing or the mood are not described, but performed with the rumorismo technique: sexual wish groans its shyness in the stuttering of “Abstract verbalization of a woman”, a dog’s appetite whines in “Tramvai”, water gurgles and foams in “Si iO VLUMMIA-torrente”, the “Brindisi all’hotel Fifth Avenue” fans out pealings of bells.
Carlo Belli, a Depero’s fellow-countryman, recalls: “I still hear his extremely mobile voice, when he scanned his sound poems to me; I was not strong enough to look at him, at the moment when he burst out in these sound nonsense rhymes; his lips twisted to express a violent contempt, his face cleared up with a sudden flash, or his eyes became like fierce tar pins according to the intensity, the thickness or the smoothness of the sounds. He wrote many such rhymes and I conscientiously copied them; and then I lost the note-book. (From “Recollection of Depero” in “Catalogo Depero”, Bassano del Grappa, 1970). (P. see Glossary).
It is a pity that the advertising poems recited from Radio Milano and Radio Genova by Depero were not recorded and got lost in the ether, available, may be, to some inquisitive extraterrestrial being.
Vladimir Majakovskij (1893-1930), although he remains on the border of Chlebnikov’s and Kručenych’s experiments, “appears to be very attentive to the body bulk, to the tangible thickness of the words, to their acoustic interlacing and to puns” (Ripellino).
By extolling dissonance and violent colours, he buries the melodiousness of the late symbolist poetry under a riot of noises. A testimony of this is found in the lyric poem “Noises, little noises, harsh noises” (1913) or in “From road to road” (1913) and also in the “Ordinance to the army of the Art” (1918), where “the abstract phonetic textures persist also when sermon and editorial themes are dealt with by the poet” (Ripellino), so much as to propose as model of the relationship between the poet and the revolution an orchestration of harsh sounds.
If Majakovskij is a “rumorista” poet, Vasilij Kamenskij (1884-1961) relies on the possibilities of onomatopoeia, trying to derive melodic lines in a kind of “Esenism” performed with a futurist instrumentation, so much as to declare that “the link between words is not required, as musical chords speak by themselves” (1916 lecture). We find some similarities with Depero’s texts in the poem “The Nightingale”: the onomatopoetic effects, to imitate the bird’s warbling merge with the lyric discourse and are some of the most intense results of the refined jonglery, that was Kamenskij’s poetical livery. (P. 24)
Coming back to futurism, the great painter Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) had also exhibited some abstract verbalizations, of more humorous than onomatopoetic quality. The “Rumorista plastic BALTRR” (1914) (P. 25), with many variations, a kind of image-narrative of how, coming back home late at night, unable to spring the faulty lock open (trelsi trelnò, trelsi trelnò) he entered by the landing to the gallery (tich tech plop plep) and from there, through a window, in his rooms (taaach!). “A discussion of two Sudanese critics about futurism” is an exchange of guttural nonsense to be declaimed with the accompaniment of an out-of-tune piano and a guitar. “Typographic Machine” is pure rumorismo, with a twelve notes simultaneousness, each one repeating its own rhythmic noise. Rumoristic is also the final sound gag of the “Funeral at Piazza Termini”, which seals a dead march with a train “me ne infiiiiischa”. The theatral synthesis of “Sconcertazione di stati d’animi” is protodada; here four people, each one in a different dress, must shout in a loud voice numbers, alphabetic letters, silently do short actions, pronounce with sorrow, pleasure, swiftly, with strength a number of exclamations and then rapidly zigzag away from the scene. We published on “antipiugiù”, n. 4 (Turin, 1966) a collection of onomatopoetic poems by the Bohemian artist Ladislav Novak (1925-1998): “Little bird in the city’s steel cables”, “Airmen”, “Awake”, “Tragic song”, “Triumphal march”. The successive poems of “phonetic tachisme” are more interesting; they were produced at the Stockholm electronic music centre, when he was invited by the Fylkingen Group in 1968: “La structure phonétique de la langue tchèque”, “Ceterum autem”, in Latin, where the phrase with which Cato the Censor concluded his addresses: “Ceterum autem Carthaginem delendam esse” is repeated.
Word subversion and rebuilding
Fourth part: Russian zaum
Velemir Chlebnikov is the inventor of zaum, with Kručenych, a transmental language. But Chlebnikov’s zaum is quite different. He invents the “verbopoiesis”, that’s to say he isolates a lexical root and going on with suffix and prefix aggregation creates a magic supermundane world of neologisms, wherein he moves with an engrossed mood, by transforming adjectives into substantives, verbalizing substantives. Then we have the “phonowriting”, which is a research of phonic-emotive expressiveness in words, with an absolute indifference to meaning: at last, the “mental alphabet”, aiming at building a language of sound hieroglyphs through abstract notions, which are rendered by arbitrary entry words, a “star universal language”, trying to re-create an ancestral language, common to all men. An example of this phonowriting is “Bobeobi” (1908), based on sound-colour analogies; now an example of verbopoiesis: “Exorcism through laughing” where the root of “smech” (laughter) is conjugated with prefixes and suffixes, so as to create a text made up only by such successive modifications. If Barzun and Marinetti are word engineers, Chlebnikov is the chemist. Recently two Russian authors, Valeri Scherstjanoi e Dmitry Bulatov have reconnected themselves to this author, who is the poet for poets. (P. 26-27-28-29) It is very probable that Joyce ignored Chlebnikov’s zaum; but in “Finnegan’s Wake” (1939) the condensation of words in a kind of agglutinating language offers peculiar affinities with the Russian poet’s operations.
The German Arno Holz (1863-1929) in his collection “Phantasus” proceeds with a thick linguistic sequence of experiments, variously going from agglutinant patterns, truly suitcase-words to other on the contrary monosyllabic words: a builder’s yard of neologistic inventions that is still to be studied.
In 1959 another German artist, H. G. Helms (1932) published “Fam’Ahniesgwow”, a big experimental work about a medley of many languages, explicitly recalling Joyce. In the same publication Helms adds also a record, with readings of some parts of his work.
The French artist Altagor, a pseudonym of Jean Vernier, from 1947 to 1960 composed a “Discours Absolu”, wholly made up with abstract neologisms, calling it a “Métapoésie”. Recording on magnetic tape contains a kind of six hour cradle song, with “sursignifiantes” cadences and consonances, reminding one of a Celtic bard song. (P. 30)
In “Artikulationen” (1960) the German Franz Mon theorizes a kind of sound poetry as “a lip, tongue, teeth dance, movements of a substance that creates by itself its own directions at the threshold of articulation... vocal vibrations absorb air, bewitch it, reject it, suck it in, shaping elastic, dark, soft, bright, wide, harsh sound substances... the primitive cry becomes a signal that can be interpreted in different ways.... the more intense the impulse, the more radical the expression and the sharper the separation from the speaking ego”. His research on the transformation of the word into another word through gradual changes of sound compounds is very interesting: word becomes proteiform, transforming itself by minimal phonematic changes and in this way a course is set, which chains the words together in a potentially endless phonic line. (P. 31) Jackson Mac Low, born in Chicago in 1922 and died in New York in 2004, was a disciple of John Cage, at the New School for Social Research. In that period J. Cage was theorizing and practising casualness in musical composition, Cunningham applied casualness in the dance and Mac Low in literary composition.
In 1966 in “antipiugiù”, n. 4, we published a long text by Mac Low, “The Pronouns, a collection of 40 dances”, a careful dance treatment, elaborated as a poetry text, overlooking all the problems of their mimic mise-en-scène. The “Pronouns” are a model of extreme solution of the relationship between choice and casualness, of the clash between a poetics of disorder and a poetics of order, imposing rules on disorder. The same thing happens in the “Simultaneities”, where more voices are used by Mac Low, articulating them according to a free rhythm, so that the mix, the most possible casual one, may jut out or like in “Matched Asymmetries” (1960), a poem generated by texts being read simultaneously with a phonic non-intentional result. (P. 32)
Such juxtaposition between different texts reminds us that in the Eighties Sergio Cena and Arrigo Lora Totino had declaimed, with two voices, at the same time, couples of different translations of tales written by Kafka or of the beginnings of “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, underlining their difference and often their insubstantialiaty. Among the first researches in sound poetry in 1966-67 Lora Totino composed the “Phonemes”, consisting in the fragmentation into sound particles of previously recorded spoken events; and this through the electronic apparatus whose name was “impulse generator”. So it’s possible to point out the sound grains, which form the matter of the word – voice, some already signifying, some still below this threshold: the phonemes, exactly. It’s a kind of infinitesimal cut-up, being applied to the word as it is spoken.
Obviously the intonation and the spoken word rhythm parameters are always present in any phonopoetic or theatral event, but if they are accentuated so as to give them the distinctive character of a certain research, it is necessary to describe them more fully.
Let’s take the case of Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and of her “Completed portrait of Picasso”, subtitled “If I told him” (“Come lo dico”, 1934). Stein, in this text, as well as in many other texts, generously uses the technique of permutation; maybe she is the first writer to inaugurate it in modern times (in ancient times we have a noteworthy example with Porphyrius Optatianus, at the times of Constantinus). G.Stein by combining permutation and wordplays and by a clever use of iterations, that becomes a method of composition, arrives at new outcomes of exact aerodynamic pattern: it’s the reading of a cubist portrait molded with a metallic Anglo-Saxon voice modelling a text which is pure rhythmic intonation and creates a kind of hypnotic bewitchment.
The English artist Brion Gysin, who has invented the “Dream-Machine”, an apparatus capable to variate the lights which act on the retina when the eyes are shut and also creator with Burroughs of modern cut-up, has borrowed from Stein the permutation technique. His masterpiece is the sound poem “I am”, composed only by the phrase “I am that I am”. Gysin, by permuting the words of this phrase and gradually accelerating the diction with the electronic apparatus, builds a text of exemplary intensity: the growing rapidity of the diction and the permutation multiplication model a sound metaphor of the dissemination of being in the universe (P. see Glossary).
American artist Dick Higgins (1938-1998) is nearer to Stein in his “Bodies Electric Arches”, going back to the effects of hypnotic enchantment offered by permutation and iteration. Analogously behaves Demetrios Stratos (1945-1979) in the rhythmic reading of the Greak texts of “Metrodora”, a woman doctor of the Byzantine period.
Eugenio Miccini writes about Gian Paolo Roffi’s work: “Roffi works with a simultaneously subtractive and additive method. He selects some minimal texts and repeats them up to the limits of auditive saturation, beyond which we notice a sense subtraction and an enhancement of the sound nature of the text. The recovery of the meaning and at the same time of its sound quality is produced by the persisting iteration. The issue is a fusion of phonic and semantic elements”. (E. Miccini, in “Poesia visiva e dintorni”, Florence 1995).
For Mauro Dal Fior, who is a vocal an interpreter of historical avant-gardes, particularly of the futurist avant-garde, poetry is an action to be listened to and to be seen, and word-plays in complicity with the public. In “Ritagli” (1990) naked figures are projected on press-clippings and reading goes on with improvised tones at the moment. In “Eventi” (1992) about ten performers read fragments of texts issued by the Italian press, on the occasion of the death of the musician J. Cage. In another action, a vertical piano is sawed into two parts: “Concerto per pianoforte se... parato”.
American musician and performer Meredith Monk bets on phonematic articulation, on simultaneism and on the insisting iteration to compose some texts that look nostalgic of ancient medieval songs.
Going back to sound modulations of the word as it is spoken, Lora Totino, in a series of trials of 1970-90, the “intonazioni” (“Intonations”), tried to study the tight link intonations have with the sense of the discourse. In a phono-gesture piece of 1970 the experiment is pushed to the extreme limit, by using only the vowel ‘a’, in different tones: anger, doubt, boredom, sentimentalism, wail, violence, irony, joke, always with the support of the body gestures and the face expressions. We wanted to demonstrate that also when a meaningful discourse is absent, pure intonation of the spoken word may easily be transformed into a series of exact semantemes. If on the one hand the word is declined and the verb is conjugated according to grammatical rules, voice diction is conjugated by some intuitive rules of inflection. (P. 34)
Pietro Porta, Italian, (1949) has composed, starting from 1982, a series of sound poems, which are the product of an “intra-verbal” research about word and noise. Obsessive iteration at a growing speed of the word ‘pomodoro’ in “Espansione 2” (1982) ends up by a disintegration of its meaning into pure noise. Other works look like sound paintings and characterize some aspects of the social behaviour, as in “Il giorno che morì il nonno” (1986); here, a funeral waking near a house of the Piedmontese countryside gradually transforms itself from a sigh and exclamation of resignation texture into a low voice series of conversations, mixed with some occasional laughs.
The Spanish duo Rafael Metlikover (1964) and Xavier Theros (1963) “Accidents Polypoetics”, active from 1995, basing their work on childlike word strings, proposes a series of comic slow monotonous strings, like: “Un triste poema” or like the piece “Yo soy bueno”, ending up with the remark “Yo soy tonto”.
Different intermedia is practiced by Carla Bertola (1935) and Alberto Vitacchio (1942), who are linear, visual and sound poets. They publish the magazine “Offerta Speciale” and the sound poetry collection “Paté de voix” in boxes and in their performances, both in twos, separately, they produce sound labyrinths, at slow rhythm, which open up into verbal and humorous polyphonies, in a continuous evolution: the sound form aims at a kind of sui generis symphonic poem. Carla Bertola on other occasions is used to pass rapidly through phonosemantic assonances into a series of phrases, thus creating some strange plays on meaning. (P. 35-36)
American Larry Wendt (1946) builds the “Metropolitan Fractalizations” using the most modern electronic media: every kind of sound-noise is used to point out a series of phenomena in their taking up fractalized forms: Brownian movements, mechanic noises, animal cries, biorhythms: a way of rendering an event through a complete sound reconstruction.We’d like to make a digression concerning some authors of sound poets that we shall call “psalm-singing” poets; their declamation generally is based on some kind of cradle song; for instance the Canadian Bill Bisset recalling modulations of tribal American Indian ritual songs; or the the American Jerome Rothemberg (1931): also interested in creating a kind of short-circuit between sound poetry and pre-Columbian rigmaroles and also by modulating Bible psalms, within a context of inspired neo-ritualism.
English Bob Cobbing (1920-2000) and Paula Claire (1939) might be included in this category. Cobbing’s piece “Whississippi” is a kind of litany, a flatus vocis like a kind of breath of life of the big River (1979). Cobbing in the Sixties typed a lot of typewritings, wherefrom he took the idea to write other sound poems, going for instance from a double overlapping typing of a text to a sound echo effect. (P. 37)
Paula Claire often bases her compostions on English folk melodies; but at other moments she models her voice using some micro-processors, being so also able to spatialize the sound. Her vocal creativity is almost limitless and she is able to read leaves, straw threads, bird flights.
Also the aggressive style of French Natalie Quintane (1964) is supported by different kinds of rigmaroles; same thing for the Argentinian Doctorovich (1961) and the Russian Alexandr Gornon (1946); Gornon refers to orthodox psalm-singing.
In Italy Enzo Minarelli’s (1951) “polipoesia” is a multimedia fusion of different elements (dance, mime, humour, gestures) is often based on humming tones, like Luisa Sax’s (1956) ironic poetry, usually supported by folk melodies. (P. 38)
In Agostino Contò’s (1953) sound poetry an essential role is played by intonation and melody. He also makes use of languages and dialects such as Provenzal and Po Valley or Venetian Vulgar, with their particular intonations; in the overlapping of voice on voice, of tone on tone, of modulation on modulation he succeeds in avoiding electronic-like effects, leaving the natural character of the diction and the timbric unicity of the voice unaltered; in the voice there vibrates the memory of ancient popular songs.
Rhythm (tradotto da Nora)
On the international scene (P. 39) of sound poetry we find some authors for whom the sense of rhythm prevails over the other parameters. This is the case for Lily Greenham, Américo Rodrigues (1961), Beth Anderson (1950), Bliem Kern (1943), Nobuo Kubota (1932), Paul Dutton (1943) etc…
But the Dutch painter and architect Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) had composed in 1916 a series of poems of a prevalently rhythmic character, analogous in some aspects to some futurist solutions, for example the Cangiullo of “Addiooo” (on “Lacerba”, 1913). (P. 40) These are the texts collected in the series “Soldaten” of 1916, in splendidly orthophonic printing forms, another futurist reminder: for instance the sound of a detachment of troops marching in “Voorjtrekkende Troep” or the verb-phonic transcription of the rhythm of the drum in “De Trom”. An excellent example of rhythm is the one provided by the lettrist Jules Lemaître in “Lettre Rock” where several male and female voices give an impeccable counterpoint at the rhythm of rock & roll. The Viennese poetess Lily Greenham is an exceptional reciter of texts of the German avant-garde and by the painter Peter Greenham German. Her voice is hard, aggressive when necessary, punctual and precise in singling out the syllables, in a sort of verbal dance with a suggestion of “Lingual Music”.
Equally clearcut is the elocution of the portuguese poet Américo Rodriguez in his record “O despertar do Funambulo” a real tight-roping feat in letting out the syllables as in machine-gun fire in a full blast oral flow.
We find some peculiarly dynamic alliterations in the sound poems of the American composer Beth Anderson, joined to a remarkable sense of humour as in “I wish I was single again”. Sometimes the sound element expands into a visual score as in “Crackers and checkers” the text of which consists in lines that get shorter and shorter till they are reduced to one letter only, then silence.
Also the sound poetry of the American author Bliem Kern, founder in New York of the “Sound Poetry Workshop” (1971) is strongly rhythmic. Kern is a good vocal virtuoso with some texts, like “Ke kee kee alahhoo” (in “Meditations Meditations”, 1973).
Nobuo Kubota’s “Phonematic Poetry” is an unbridled dance of phonemes in complicated variations (he is a Canadian of Japanese origin). His improvisings are spectacular and so are those by Paul Dutton, formerly a member of the Canadian Quartet of the “Four Horsemen”. Both these authors have carried on in the ultralettrist style of the French poet François Dufrêne “Crirythmes” whose material is composed by phonemes, yells, sounds created by lips, tongue, uvula, throat.
Demetrios Stratos in his work “O Tzitziras o Mitziras” (1978) has provided with his consummate skill a dizzy vocal dance, reducing the reading of a text which should have normally lasted four times as much to less than a minute.
Also Isabella Beumer, German (1951), using a prodigious technique of elocution dares to dart off into extravant phonematic whirlpools.
The German duo “Omophon”, active since 2001 also with the name of “Phonetic decoration text Factory” combines elements of literature, theatre and music with an impeccable technique and a spry rhythm.
Breathing, voice, body
“The voice can not be considered in isolation and expresses the truest body of the language… the voice is the need to let the body speak” (Matteo D’Ambrosio. In “La battaglia contro la parola” on “Tam-Tam” n. 26, 1981).
It is not enough to speak of an oral-sound performance; the emission of sounds can’t help being accompanied by the gesticulation of the body, by facial expression, by global behaviour” (Renato Barilli, “Viaggio al termine della parola”) “On the other hand, Fontana adds, Paul Zumthor maintains that the voice can profit by the scenic presence to great advantage and Claude Lévi- Strauss believes oral creativeness to be anyway all-absorbing. Zumthor, again states that “In the moment itself in which, during the performance, the text composed in writing becomes voice, a global mutation engulfs it and for all the time the audition goes on and while this presence lasts, its nature is modified. Beyond the objects and beyond the senses implied, the vocal speech hints at the unmentionable; the word is not the simple interpreter of the language that is never fully realized, that it breaks with all its corporality for our unforeseeable pleasure. It is so that the voice intervenes in and on the text, as within and on a half formalized matter with which to mould a mobile but finite object. (P. Zumthor , “Poesia dello Spazio” in “La taverna di Auerbach” n. 9-10, 1990). But before the voice comes the breath, the breathing. In the Bible Yahweh’s breath gives life to the universe and breathing makes the voice vibrate and the voice, the word by which the world is named and thus owned. In Pierre’s (1927) and Ilse Garnier’s (1928) poetics the breath is the foundation of poetry, and especially of the pral one, because it is the element that links the bodily with the disembodied (“Souffle-Manifeste”, 1963): I breathe, so the world is”. The “Sonie” is born, the art of sound-word which, by breaking through the barriers of languages aims at rediscovering the energy of the language itself: “Starting from breathing a new language may be re-invented with a new syntax and new composing structures.” The sonie becomes poème-action where breathing moulds new forms of expression.
If we carry this tendency to the extreme we come across the “Audiopoèmes” by Henri Chopin where the voice becomes the sign of the inner gesture and the sound mouldings are set as significant presences beyond any linguistic convention. Chopin is against the word and places his work beyond the language, in that zone where sounds are the expression of our organs, “the bases for the measured but not codifiable sound dismeasurements, as we want to avoid notation.” (H. Chopin, “La voce” in “La taverna di Auerbach” n. 910, 1990). “Chopin’s audiopoème elects to centre on the corporal and corporeal genesis of sound. … Chopin captures from his own phonatory apparatus and from his entire body the sound matter with which he will mould his poetry… Chopin is a multiplier of bodily sounds, a tight-rope walker of the many soundtrack tape recorder , a magician of amplification. Moving from the almost unperceptible ‘particulae’ which pervade the paths of our organism, he succeeds in creating aggressive concerts of materic poetry”. (G. Fontana. Work quoted, page 132)
In a different quarter, in Adriano Spatola’s (1941-1988) performances “the body would become the centre of a field of magnetic forces connected to the world; every beat, every pulse was a way of allowing communication, of favouring hyper-aesthetic linkings… the body would become a tam-tam that dispersed energies… but the body did not merely emanate but was also a receptor of the stimuli coming from the audience which expressed itself by means of little gestures or reaction, expressive facial reactions, mumblings, silences, breath, coughing, applause or whistling. (P. 41) The body, its total presence was one of the fundamental elements of Spatola’s “poésie directe” (J. Blaine). He relied on his scenic presence, on his countenance, on the volume of his body, on his slow and deliberate movements and based a lot of his work on supersegmental elements, tones, accents, volume, breathing. He offered the public the poem of himself, as in “Jonisation” in which ha caused sound pulses by hitting his body with the microphone (G. Fontana, already quoted).
And here is another suggestion “Gymnic poetry” (since 1970) by Arrigo Lora Totino, consisting in a series of flashes of mimic-verbal gags where words and gestures are completely integrated and the speech is at the same time word and body action, inseparably. For instance in the gymnic poem “Il politico”, the actor, standing facing the public must mime the movements of a skilled skier while he repeats “slalom, slogan” (in English it could be “twin, twaddle”) again and again in tones of mellifluous sales patter: then the action becomes quicker and quicker and the gesture more and more disinhibited, but a fall suddenly blocks the event, followed by a whimpering “slogatura !” (twisted ankle). Or in “Solidarietà” the actor standing at attention slowly recites “one, two, three, four” widening his arms and finally pinning them behind his back; and when he orders “fire” instead of “five”, he crumples up on the ground as though he had been shot. (P., see Glossary).
Also Katalin Ladik in her actions which are fables in words and mimic uses her body in a thousand bewildering eloquent travesties (P. 42). In the poetry of Bartolomè Ferrando from Catalonia “the body becomes writing, the writing image… the unsaid emerges from the shreds of the speech and the objects are laden with an unsuspected semantic load. With very great skill Ferrando treats words as things, things as words, words as voices and voices as words, words as gestures and gestures as words.” ( G. Fontana, work already quoted, page 72).
In Nicola Frangione’s performances “the distinctive character is the attention to the body as expressive element, a body that has relations of a ritual character with the space and the silence that surround it. Objects underline corporeal values by symbolic connotations, while the word is included in the body and acts within it, dying on its lips. The voice is put on the same plane as the other elements of expression, for instance of text and music in a synergic key and not merely by superimposing, in the sense of a “poetry of the sound” in which the sound is an echo anticipating the word when the latter is being born”. (G. Fontana, in his work already quoted).
Tomaso Binga finds his complete expression in material writing, a writing which is also gesture where it is the body itself that becomes writing. Her voice acquires expressive modes of folk orality (rigmaroles, singsongs, the intoning of pedlars, of street singers, of radio-taxi operators). Her performances are poetic “sceneggiatas” apt at establishing a close relationship with the public.
For Massimo Mori it is in the use of the body that the axis of poetic expression resides, it is a way of using it that is linked with particular forms of the oriental ascetic gesturing, which he causes to interact with contemporary psychologic situations. A typical example is his action “Combattimento con l’ombra” or the poem-video “ Per in dio, mantra di invocazione e mantra mobile”, where the studied movements of the body according to contemplative geometries contrast with frenziedly dynamic graphic forms, miming the dualism between pure interiority and delirious dissipation of everyday gestures.
The tight-rope walkers of voice
Already in the period between the two world wars the dadaists Hausmann and Kurt Schwitters had composed complicated and articulate alphabetic glossolalies: by Schwitters we need only quote the “Ur-Sonate”, an ancestral sonata, composed theoretically in the classical “forma sonata”, taking as its thematic subject a short phonetic poem by Hausmann, who, on the contrary preferred to improvise relying on his inexhaustible resources of verbal invention.
An inimitable voice was that of Altagor: six hours of “Discours Absolu” entirely composed by abstract neologisms.
In the period after World War Two François Dufrêne, of lettrist origin, invented his “Crirythmes”, improvisations whose sound material consists in a whole gamut of phonations produced by the mouth and by the throat (P. 44). By diabolical ability the lips of this Paganini of ultralettrism twisted as if they were made of rubber, producing tongue and throat ballets which have fascinated a whole generation of sound authors, from the Canadians Paul Dutton and Nobuo Kubota to the Portuguese Américo Rodrigues, to the Dutchman Jaap Blonk (1953) and others. Blonk, on his part adds a powerful physical and psychological tension such as to transform his face into an expressive mimicry almost akin to the masks of classical tragedy. Not to speak of Isabelle Beumer, a German lady, inimitable in her phonematic articulation.
So from Hausmann onwards what Pozzi says in his “Poesia per gioco” is true: that is, a sound instrumentation of the language wholly independent from the organization of meanings is possible. If one possesses the capacity to vary accents, tones, pauses and accelerations and all the other vocal parameters one achieves results worthy of a tight-rope walker of the voice. This is the extreme, for the time being, consequence which the process of subversion and reconstruction of the language has reached. A language solely and exclusively spoken, a process based on the experiments of simultaneists, futurists, dadaists, Russian zaum and the lexical revolution of Joyce and Harno Holz.
And we must mention here the materiality of Emilio Villa’s language, a very great linear poet of the second half the twentieth century, a materiality enhanced by his use of many languages, which definitely opens to the phoné much of his poetic production. See in particular “Diciassette variazioni su temi proposti per unapura ideologia fonetica” (origine , Roma 1955). Therefore not only in the field of sound poetry but also in linear poetry there are such exceptional examples of transgression and outgrowing of language, which with Villa often deliberately reaches semantic darkness, like a Sybil overwhelmed by the convulsions of prophesying. (P. 45).
But finally these tight rope walking exteriorizings of the voice aim at molding and founding a neo-language which will be pure vocal poetry-music; beyond the artificial melody of song, beyond the word, beyond the distinction between poetry and music, tending to a merely glossolalic expression, where the signifier is detached from the meaning and is free to represent what the signifier is in itself, probably something very similar to the “grammelot” of the Commedia dell’Arte, so well recovered by Dario Fo, who talks about it in his “Manuale minimo dell’attore”, Torino, 1987): “The first form of the grammelot is that practised by children when they pretend to talk very clearly with extraordinary mumblings. I once witnessed a dialogue between a Neapolitan child and an English one… they did not use their own languages, but another invented one… the Neapolitan pretended he was speaking English and the other one Italian, with a southern accent. They understood one another perfectly. Through gestures, intonations and a variety of mumblings they had built their code”. Thus tight-rope-walking poets are carrying on, like somewhat grown children, a little more technically clever heading for a little beyond, where everything is to be explored.
And now we must speak about Demetrios Stratos (1945-1979) whose research on voice stands on the border between poetry and music and has been brought to such a degree of tension that some have talked of ‘vocal suicide’, a voice freed from any cultural link, beyond any position between East and West, between avant-garde and ethnic music (P. 46). And in fact in his “Mirologhi” he rebuilt vocally the improvisations of the clarinet players of Epyrus, while “Metrodora” is a diaphony for two voices that recite on different rhythms fragments in Byzantine Greek of a medical gynaecological code by Metrodora, a celebrated baby doctor active at Byzantium in the Sixth Century. In 1974 he interpreted the opera “Sixty two mesostics Re Merce Cunningham” by John Cage. Here are some examples of his research on voice: to bring the oscillations of the vocal chords to the maximum tension, so as to produce an overlapping of harmonics; inducing the vowels to flow into plosive consonants; in “Diplophonies” and “Triplophonies” causing a second and a third sound simultaneously with the basic sound: registering a text contrariwise in such a way that listening to it in recto, one perceives nothing but a normal reading; practical occlusions and stiffenings of the larynx in order to obtain what Stratos used to call “slags of harmonics”: using the yodel: articulating the spoken sound at incredible speeds with “O Tzitziras o Mitziras”, etcetera. A voice, his was, “erotic and heretic” (Fontana) that left the public bewildered by the originality of the performance.
Two women seem to have taken up Stratos’ heritage and they are, perhaps not by mere chance, both from the east, the Hungarian Katalin Ladik and the Mongolian Sainkho Namtchylak. Ladik was a revelation of the Amsterdam Festival of Sound Poetry of 1977. A very beautiful voice which is a whole verbophonic orchestra, varying on several tone and timbre registers. She began by interpreting visual poems of contemporary poets (“Fonika Interpretacija Poezije”) but soon she went on on her own, re-creating fairy tales like “Red Riding Hood” in which she was at the same time the little girl, the grandmother and the wicked wolf, the last one by deforming her face by the simple trick of pressing it against a transparent piece of glass.
Her voice played on the particular accumulations of the agglutinative Hungarian language in surprising sharp and deep modulations and deformations and also by the expert use of the ventriloquist’s technique, able to separate the act of breathing from that of speaking, so as to be able to use them both simultaneosly.
Similarly, the Mongolian singer and performer Namtchylak also profited from the rich vocal patrimony of an agglutinative Uralo-Altaic language. Another woman – beware, males, you run the risk of being overtaken by the ladies: they have the wholly feminine capacity of extracting visceral expressions, sometimes bordering on histerics, but sometimes on mystery: and indeed the Sybils were women. Fatima Miranda, Spanish, shows other vocal possibilities in which also an exquisite musical education plays a part whose inheritage dates back not only to the muslim period of Spain but further back to the earliest time of primitive poliphony born from the Gregorian cantus firmus and I am referring to the school of Notre Dame of Leoninus and Perotinus (P. 47). In fact Fatima Miranda’s singing voice is interwoven with polyphonic rhythms and other voices and it is just at that point that ornamentation and the fioritura, both rhythmic and consonance and dissonance were born in a dynamic flow originated by the sound matter, because it is in the opposition of consonances and dissonances that the dynamics of the event consists, as already noted by Boethius in the sixth century: “Beauty reveals itself as the harmonic balance of stance and motion, unity and variety, deep and sharp, identical and dissimilar, entire and multiple”. Both in his “Flatus Vocis Trio” and in other vocal ensembles Fatima Miranda’s voice becomes “Musica peritia modulationis” (St Isidore).
In the monodic form those qualities seem to be relevant to the poetic vocal style of Giovanni Fontana, who ever since 1970 (“Radiodramma” is dated 1977) has worked out a complicated orchestration of his own voice, turning it into a very docile and extremely malleable instrument of sound. This Stradivarius from Alatri remains soundly anchored to the word, that he elaborates, melting it, amalgamating it, sublimating it, dissolving it, solidifying it and, in a word, offering us in a very up to date form that “lyrical obsession with matter”, especially in the rendering of the sensorial function of the taste buds, already advocated by Marinetti. And indeed his voice draws from the possibilities of “animalizing, vegetalizing, mineralizing, electrifying, liquefying one’s style”. (P. 48)
French Michèle Métail’s research (1950), is also anchored to the word. “An attempt”, as she herself says, to manage the language by breaking it up into its parts: nouns, verbs, adjectives and so on... and we have the “Compléments de noms”. It consists in the reading of an endless accumulation of phrases that grow by successive additions (complements) of lexical elements.
Listening to her while she pronounces with imperturbable but precise diction these complements, we witness the phenomenon of a voice that slowly grows louder and louder and then becomes weaker to grow stronger again and so on in a sort of ebb and flow of a tide of waves of phrasing, undoubtedly a tour de force of the spoken word.
Giuliano Zosi (1940) poet and musician in his series of the “Phonos” acts on the forming moment of the signifier which he builds up by rhythmic iteration of the phoneme, when it is being born from an amorphous mumbling. “Phonos 1” (1980) is a sort of sound mantra, from the simulation of cosmic breathing to the formation of the hindu sacred words; in “Phonos 2” the leading thread is dictated by the popular heritage of singsongs and tonguetwisters in a rough primitive language with a crazy rhythm; “Phonos 3” (1985) is a sort of journey to the Middle Ages, between alchemic formulas, invectives by inquisitors and practical jokes by clerici vagantes; “Phonos 4” (1987) is for four bells and a performer who pretends to be a jester; “Phonos 5” (1990) consists in a symbolic journey into the unconscious divided into sections entitled “Oedipic fragment”, “The nepharious laughter”, “The yawning joke”, “Urpoème”, “Phallic poem”, “Occult poem”, “Microbic poem”, where the voice flows from the primaeval yell to the expression of Oedipus complexes, to dreams; a journey into the unconscious on psychoanalitic lines. Zosi’s voice succeeds in producing double sounds and is particularly agile in crescendos (P. 49). By the way since 1970 Zosi has become specialized in the vocal performance of the whole score of Schwitters’ “Ursonate”, which he performs in the same way as an expert pianist would perform a classic sonata, that is by following carefully what has been indicated by the author. His performance is therefore rather different from the historic one by Schwitters himself. The latter, in fact, dada-wise often overlooked fidelity to the text in order to branch off into the phonetic humour typical of dada sound poetry.
Orality and Technology
At the beginning of this talk of ours we had hinted at a technological orality in which there prevail multilingua devices of arts and genres no longer separable for ascertaining meanings. And certainly if in the early years of the twentieth century the Futurists had had at their disposal the electronic media we possess now they would certainly have made use of them enthusiastically; just think of Balla’s and Depero’s idea of “Futurist reconstruction of the Universe”, which in their manifesto was represented by works in cardboard, plaster and wood.
But there is something more: in the manifesto “La Radia” (1933) by Marinetti and Masnata they imagined sound plays to be launched in the ether and, among other things descriptions of concise sound actions such as the “Building of a house made by sounds: the right-hand wall by the noise of road traffic, the left-hand one with the noise of a detachment of soldiers marching, the ceiling made of birds’ chirping and blasts of wind, the floor consisting in the gurgling of the liquid that flows in the pipes”.
We had also mentioned Henri Chopin for whom electronic media are a must. The same goes for Flemish Paul de Vree (1909-1982), who had founded the avant-garde magazine “De Tafel Ronde” (1953) who was one of the first to take an interest in sound poetry immediately after World War Two. (P.50) De Vree is particularly skilful in playing on phonic-semantic and alliterative associations, intensified through careful reverberations, by taking advantage of the possibilities provided by the Utrecht study of electronic music and of the help of the composer Jan Bruyndonckx. The result is an astonishing timbric magic.
Ernest Robson, American (1902), the author of rigorous theoretic models on the writing systems of phonetic scores, together with Larry Wendt transfers on magnetic tape this research, particularly efficacious in rendering the plasticity of phonemes; in “Oh no” (1976) it is the use of iteration that creates a cadence in which the phonemes are modelled by successive electronic variations.
For Robert Ashley, an American (1930), the use of electronic means is essential. For instance the text “In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There were Men and Women” by the experimental writer J. Barton Wolgamot, is first electronically analyzed and later varied on the basis of seven different forms of sound (snap in the attacks, fundamental frequences, five different harmonics and so on).
Pierre André Arcand, a Canadian (1942), is the inventor of the “Réenregistreuse”, a sound machine which creates, starting from signals in succession a continuum of sound in progression and transformation directly generated and controlled. On the magnetic tape overlappings in more and more succeeding sound metamorphoses are created.
But the spoken word, undergoing simple experiments that don’t owe much to electronics, reveals unforeseen properties. For example the American composer Alvin Lucier has attempted to re-register the registration of a phrase like “I am sitting in the room” and then to register this registration a second and a third time and many more again. One witnesses the gradual sound modification of the phrase, due to the accumulation of the background reverberations, till the phrase itself disappears as meaning, and its place is taken by a sort of music of echoes: thus the word returns to its origin as pure sound asemantic event.
In 1953 the Brazilian concrete poet Augusto De Campos (1931) created “Poetamenos”, a score-poem where the author has marked the various phonic timbres assigning different colours to the words, to the syllables or the letters. The text will then be vocalized two years later in São Paulo by a group of avant-garde musicians, who followed the chromatic indications in their sound transcription.
Two young French authors, construct their texts by exploiting scansions and electronic filters: Anne-James Chaton by the accumulations of the “événements” (1999) and Hélios Sabaté Beriain with his “Poésie électronique (2001).
Giovanni Fontana in his “La voce in movimento” (already quoted) maintains that “electronic technique… at the moment, seems to represent the only sector liable to open unsuspected acoustic spaces” and quotes Mario Costa, who at the conference “Altra Musica, Altri Canti: ricerca e sperimentazione nella poetica di fine millennio” (Longiano 1996) stated that “the destiny of art is indissolubly bound to that of technology…that history of art is essentially history of the media, of their conflicts, of their interplayings and hybridations… that the vision of the artist is largely induced by the state of the matter, by the techniques and by the proceedings... which break away from every traditional category of thought about art… that through them every work becomes group work, interplay, a proceeding and the subject is changed into hypersubject... marking the end of style, which becomes unnecessary and nowhere to be found… the technologies work in a decisive manner towards that dehumanization of the work, the necessity of which was explicitly felt for the first time by Marcel Duchamp and which represents nowadays the condition on the basis of which can only be thought of a possible return to the aesthetic”.
We leave to signor Mario Costa the responsibility for these statements, also as far the judgment on the work of Duchamp is concerned. The future is anyway, on the knees of the gods, hoping they are those of Apollon and Dionisos and hopefully not those of Vulcan.
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