Karenina.it - Sound Poetry

Background image Sarawut Chutiwongpeti




Dmitry BULATOV (Russia)




Information Burst

Russia’s return into the global art context, which has been going on for 15 years with a varying degree of success, has undergone a number of significant changes in the late 1990s. The starting period, marked by the reproduction and retrospection of the so-called “non-conformist” accomplishments in the Soviet art allowed the Russian audience to compare Russian and foreign art of the 1950s to 80s and to find the points of contact. The filling-up of the blank spots in main branches of fine arts, music and literature which was characteristic of the period and which was due to a great number of re-publications, context editions, and retrospective exhibitions, helped to prepare the ground for further development of the contemporary Russian art. This process coincided in time with the tendencies programmatically based on “national” accomplishments in art. After a long pause, a wave of Russian exhibitions and projects rolled through the international cultural space. In their turn, western painters and gallery keepers could at last satisfy their hunger for information and spread their activity on the territories lying to their east. Apparently, the mutual interest of painters and gallery owners was due not only to the need of a formal update of language and authors’ strategy; this interest was also the necessary step in reaffirming freedom of the versatile as the very essence of esthetic experience.

The next period was marked by intensified cultural globalization and de-centralization of Russia’s art life which were reflected in a large-scale expansion of means of mass communication, which, in its turn, transformed any phenomenon into available and comprehensible information without suppressing national differences, but resulting in their manifestation/obliteration, accentuation/smoothing, rearrangement, and re-definition. A situation that developed was new and in many ways paradoxical; it was marked by an unexpected blending, on many levels, of the notions of “borderline,” “half-peripheral,” “intermediate,” and “secondary” line. During this period, the intermedia art became extremely focused, as the geographical, spatial, and temporal differences ceased being significant. The main principle of the intermedia technique is the introduction of related notional lines and their radical combinations into a certain sphere within art/literature. This technique prompted an important conclusion: by releasing notions and integral elements from their traditional compartments, we can achieve a level which will best respond to the contemporary situation.

We know from the example of a number of literature and social trends in art (Vienna group, Brazilian concrete-poetry, Fluxus, Internationale Situationiste, etc.) which worked not only on the level of denoted, but also on the level of denotative, that various experiments with word and image, with language as a material, and with bearers significantly expand the borders of literature/art. The deconstruction of text, for example, inevitably leads to overcoming the borders of text. In its turn, an attempt to overcome the borders of text and/or representation causes the need to overcome the limitations of literature and/or art defined as historical categories.

Such expansion of esthetic borders, which started in Russia in the 1980s and 90s along with economic and technical deconstruction and redefinition and renovation of literature and art techniques, went hand in hand with a large-scale expansion onto new territories. Beside already conducted fundamental investigations on the interdisciplinary nature of certain phenomena in the contemporary art (for example, electronic media, video and photography, visual poetry, etc.), it has become essential to analyze the current phenomena connected with the decussation of LITERATURE and MUSIC, which demonstrate the very structure of the intermedia phenomenon, its molecular and atomic composition.


Sound-poetry, Origins and Problems

Emergence of a foretype of the contemporary sound-poetry is traditionally associated with a conventional division of the so-called regular literature into its visual and phonetic component, which occurred on the threshold of the 20th century. While the emergence of visual poetry, where texts, inscriptions, and words appear as integral compositional elements along with representation, marked the borderline spheres within literature and fine arts, the works of sound-poets who deliberately used various verbal-musical elements, have vividly demonstrated the meeting-grounds of literature and music. Strictly speaking, a general idea of visual and phonetic works of art, i.e., wiping off the frontiers between disciplines, can not be regarded as a discovery of the 20th century. Art historians and theoreticians of experimental poetry often remind us about the baroque epoch with its famous “fancy” verses and scores. Nevertheless, a consummate balancing on the border between word and image (visual poetry), word and music (sound-poetry), and word and gesture (action poetry), in short, the origins of intermedia trends in their most active form, became particularly pronounced in the early 20th century, period when avant-garde movements such as futurism, constructivism, and dadaism gained force.

If a modern researcher decides to analyze the ideological content of these revolutionary tendencies, he would be bound to focus his attention on the rebellion against the so-called “terrorist nature” of language and an alphabetic oriented and alphabetic regulated mind, instigating radical gestures aimed, in the long run, at destroying both the borders of language and the language itself. Along with such axifugal phenomena, one can also detect divective ones, of a uniting character, which undoubtedly gave new opportunities to the individual poetic language by helping to achieve a dynamic balance between language and music, depiction and sound. As examples of such balance, we can quote highbrow masterpieces of Khlebnikov and Kruchonykh, Schwitters, who had tried to solve the problem of structural combination of speech and typographics, Iliazd, who created, on the basis of Russian phonetics, the transmental poetry and who sought in his typographics a sound representation of this poetry, or Hausmann’s placard verses, in which letters became valuable from phonetic point of view as a result of being detached from the actual language and represented the alternation of sounds (“optophonetics”).

In these poetic strategies, which were so different, we can see well-marked dominant tendencies of “avant-garde” textual experiments. These lines are still easy to trace in the contemporary art. One of them can be defined as a striving towards the creation and acoustic reading of a new language , the “language intended for all living beings, called to replace the existing one…” (V. Khlebnikov), “I do not want words which were invented by others” (H. Ball). Another tendency is based on the refusal to be purposeful, which also concerns the modeling of a new language, and is focused on “processuality”, on considering the very idea of giving birth to a work of art, which Guattari defined as “construction of a machine for producing text”. It was in the techniques of futurists and dadaists – Marinetti, Hausmann, Tzara, Albert-Birot, and others, that the ideology of machine production of attention had first emerged. This ideology later played an important role in forming the modern concept of the techno-body ideas in literature and art, through the “automatic writing” of surrealists and techno-technique of some authors from the international literary avant-garde.

While the futurologic manifestations of poets should be ascribed primarily to the experimental poetic representation of their creativity, the works of Marcel Duchamp, that are only typologically related to poetry, represent a cardinal change in the artistic thinking as such, which is reflected in the refusal to pretend to have made any inventions in the field of language, or have pretensions of being a “chosen” author. Here, creativity is transferred into the sphere of significant artistic motions. Such motional character of creativity not only and not as much represents directly the content of a text, but rather reflects the immediate (anonymously individual) act of its production, as well as reveals a series of cultural notions connected with the notion “literature/art” itself. Such transformation from “phenomenon” to “idea,” to the search of the connotative content of a notion, which is often realized through quotation and ironical play with new forms in the mass culture, is itself the beginning of new experimental poetry and the actual New Era art as a whole.

A real revolutionary impulse that transferred the strivings of phonological character into the modern sound-poetry is traditionally attributed to the post-war prime of literature and music reflected in such trends as letterism, concretism, minimalism, and conceptualism. Since the 1950s, these trends continuously developed the dada principles and eventually gave birth to a new poetics, which interpreted impression and concept using new sound forms, rather than acting on the level of existing words and letters, or some sophisticated formations. Such authors as Isidore Isou, Öyvind Fahlström, Maurise Lemaître, Gil J. Wolman, Arthur Pétronio, François Dufrêne and, later, H. Chopin, B. Cobbing, W. Burroughs, B. Gysin, B. Heidsieck, G. Rühm, A. Lora-Totino and many other authors who belonged to different schools of sound poetry expanded the borders of poetry introducing into it new sounds that only existed in the audial form (for example, sighs, muttering, whisper, babble, snoring, sneezing, smack, whistling, etc). Along with onomatopoeia, the leading role in such verse was played by sounds that bore no sense and were detached from the semantic unity of words. While representatives of futurism and dadaism isolated words from their context, so that the character of a verse was set by the tone of individual words and their capacity of creating a certain atmosphere, the trends of sound-poetry in the 1950s-70s were those of further reduction, going as far as the isolation of individual sounds and creation of a de-centralized sound-poetic space. One should also mention the horizontal “dilution” of the text space, which experimental poets have used over the last few decades. Poem, as a pure artistic motion, free from any material form, with a simultaneous accentuation of the material (for example, actionism of the Vienna group), transfer to other methods of “production” of literature, such as generation of a poetic work using the phonosomatic method applying different machines (tape recorder, television, video, computer) by Chopin, Gysin, Sommerville, Burroughs, and others, became a practical-theoretical basis for generations of sound-poets, including modern ones.

More than half a century of strivings in the field of formal literature resulted not only in its total spread onto scientific and technical spheres that have traditionally been remote from literature and art, but also in adjusting for its own use a number of techniques of synthetic construction of reality based on the time-concentration play. Due to this coming-to-be and development, works of sound-poetry acquired a form and inner structure that were quite untypical for the traditional poetry. Its features are, on the one hand, a somewhat radicalized intermedia form whose composition is determined by the tempo and rhythm of phonation, pulsating sound cavities, quick verbal alterations and transitions, and unexpected intonation accentuation, as well as various action-performative aspects, etc. There features organized into an integral system of expressive means. On the other hand, the contemporary sound poetry can be regarded as a technological methodical element using both versatile electronic-generated options to produce, modify and represent a sound and a broad range of schemes for network interaction. This method can produce a work of sound poetry which is based on the acoustic model and thus balances between poetry and music and ideally is an elaborated laboratory material in the form of a sound symphony. Symphonies of sound, in literature – as a co-foundation for aposiopesis?


State and Perspectives

The period of the 1980s and 90s with its pronounced electronic-technological component in art produced a lot of hints about the termination of an epoch of close links between art, humanities, and philosophy. This triunity which was typical for the whole of the 20th century was based on the overall anxiety concerning language and the options of its application to the surrounding world. The present state of computer technologies that have swiftly invaded all spheres of the human knowledge, forces an author (curator, publisher, etc.) to exchange the anxiety expressed in the “big linguistic discourse” and interpretation techniques for direct operational activities, whose methods are directly related to physiology with all its regularities and versatile individual phenomena. This transition is marked by a gradual blurring of once well structured and clearly shaped areas of representation in literature and art. The developed communications have overcome material limits; their channels ceased to coincide with the local structures and now demand a reviewing of the traditionally defined spaces as the necessary condition for developing culture.

As literature enters new interdisciplinary alliances, it brings about the revision of main elements of a conventional “agreement” concerning social forms of existence of this type of creativity, an agreement that presupposes, among other things, an invariable image of the author, work, or reader. The aim of such revision is in no case a “post-modernistic” mass-media death of the author, but a conceptual transformation of the very idea of authorship. The strategies for such transformation that are being gradually worked out are different and sometimes even alternative, from depersonalization of the author’s presence, when the author’s personality is replaced by a constructive idea of a multiple authorship, collectives, communes, etc., to the intermedial simulation of the author’s role functions. In the latter case, the author whose aim is to create a complete sound-visual poem, is replaced by a guide-technologist who offers various services of media “art-service” replacing a traditional esthetic object by the sphere of esthetic activity. Along with reassessment of the author’s role in a work of art, a necessity appeared to define the standing of the reader/viewer/listener (i.e., user) in the situation of intensified space unity and simultaneity of his/her presence in several spaces, which are often incompatible and disparate. The user ceases being a passive participant in the process, unable to alter material properties of a work of literature by the very act of reading/viewing/hearing. As personal interface technologies are replaced by collective ones, the user becomes an active character in this work of art, who possesses ever increasing abilities to modify it. The space of an experimental poem shall turn (it is actually occurring right now), into a synthetic (polystructured) system that sensitively reacts to various auto-scenario “steps” of the user. In the future, this system will develop, together with the user, into a integral temporal and physical formula, which will rule out, within the next decade, the problem of any classical interface. Therefore, one can not rule out the possibility of literature (and art as a whole) evolving towards the creation of the temporal (temp-oral) concepts of reality, where the role of interface would be played not by an outside foreign body of the author/reader/viewer, etc., but by an individual techno-body of the perceptive person. The technology securing the interaction between a user and a work of art through user’s senses (vision, hearing, etc.) will be replaced by neurotechnology able to directly stimulate the brain. Will the dictatorship of speech, graphic form, and acoustic image will come to an end?


Translated by Lubov Vinogradova.