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Call for Contributions to Poetryfilm Magazine on Sound and Voice-over in Poetry Film

Poetryfilm Magazine, the multilingual, digital and print publication from Poetryfilmkanal, has just issued a call for essay contributions to its next issue, which has the theme “Ton und Voice-over im Poetryfilm” (Sound and Voice-over in Poetry film). I’ll reproduce the English-language version below. There’s also a version in German.

Dear reader,

a film poem might be seen as a visual illustration of a metaphoric text. Beyond that, the sound is a fundamentally important element. Music, voice and sound design have to be considered as essential aspects that add to the whole of the audiovisual experience of a poetry film.

Particularly the recitation is of central importance. No matter if visuals and sound were adapted to the poet’s recital of his text or if the visual part was created prior to the voice-over, the poetry film genre has always been an important experimentation field. More than in dialogue-based fiction films, single words play a key role.

The voice itself is not a neutral media. It intensifies and interprets the poem. Maybe it comments, parodies or even attacks it instead of bringing it into its service. Moreover, it has to adapt or to be adapted to the complex rhythm of the moving imagery, the edit, the foley, the sound and the music. This can happen in various ways. When the relation between the visual and the sound level is redundant, it might be perceived as a disturbance. Complementing one another, the two might create a third level which can add an additional meaning, an audiovisual surplus (Michel Chion) to the text.

Sounds, tones and noises have an impact on the emotional value of a film and guide our visual perception. What we see depends on what we hear. Even what we don’t hear can gain a presence through the sound. As poetry films live from their mood and their atmosphere, they rely fundamentally on the sound design’s qualities.

In her contribution to the first Poetryfilm Magazine’s edition Stefanie Orphal states that the fascination of the poetry film genre can be pointed out particularly well through the consideration of the sound. This is why a charismatic voice and an experienced sound designer should be engaged in the production process wherever possible.

When the music dominates and the beat remains a minor element, the poetry film draws near the genre of the music video. Music videos and video installations can be seen as poetry films, whereas songs and tunes can be interpreted as poetry. Various transitions and crossover forms can be found in this field regarding the visual language, the way of singing or reciting as well as in the complexity of the texts.

Call for Essays

We are looking for submissions for our Poetryfilm Magazine’s second edition, which will focus on aspects of sound and voice-over in poetry film. We are interested to initiate an interdisciplinary exchange of views on and experiences about recitation, music, noise, sound and artistic sound design in poetry film. Essays can be based on a historical research, a film analysis or a theoretical reflection – important to us is the practical approach, through which the filmmakers as well as the audience can gain a better understanding of the genre.

The contributions in the magazine’s first edition »Fascination Poetryfilm?« were held short on purpose, as we wanted to give as many authors as possible a chance to raise their voice. From now on, we are planning to publish longer texts of up to 10.000 signs (without footnotes wherever possible). We are hoping for submissions which lead us to open discussions and unexpected perspectives onto the topic. The second edition of the magazine will be published in time for this year’s ZEBRA-Festival, which for the first time will take place in Münster.

Aline Helmcke, Guido Naschert

For those who may not have read it yet, the inaugural issue of the magazine is available as a PDF.

Stefanie Orphal on the aural dimension of poetry film

Stefanie OrphalGerman literary scholar Stefanie Orphal, author of Poesiefilm: Lyrik im audiovisuellen Medium [Poetry Film: Poetry in the Audiovisual Medium], has an essay up at Poetryfilmkanal on “The fascination of hearing poetry films.” Here’s an excerpt:

In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of matters of sound and acoustics, in film studies as well as in other areas. Our understanding of poetry film can benefit a lot from this development. The principal point that we can take from this research is this: Not just on the level of signs, in terms of text-image-relations, but on the level of perception itself sound and image are fused into something completely new, into a third thing that is more than the addition of both elements. While experimental film maker Maya Deren meditated on this effect as early as 1953 on a podium on poetry and the film, contemporary scholars like film theorist Michel Chion have systematically laid out how what we hear, shapes what we believe only to see in the audiovisual experience.

One of Chion’s central terms is ›synchresis‹, by which he describes the psychophysiological phenomenon that lets us attribute discrete events that we see and hear simultaneously to the same source, e. g. the dubbed voice to the actor on screen. Such an effect – also called cross-modal association – is subtly operative in the perception of all audio-film, but it is crucial to the experience of poems in an audiovisual context, because voice over poems are often clearly not part of a diegetic world and what we hear is set apart from what we see creating counterpoint and contrast. But even in the most modernist and experimental efforts of counterpoint or of contrasting sound-image-relations, in our perception both sound and image are always drawn together, contaminating each other as Michel Chion puts it. The effect of this play of forces can be intriguing. What is fascinating about poetry film, to me, is the stunning effect when such a complex combination of elements brings about something new, the impression that something is revealed in the image or in the poem.

Read the rest.

The soundtrack as an element of film-poem creation: an interview with Marc Neys

Belgian filmmaker Marc Neys, A.K.A. Swoon, needs no introduction to fans of videopoetry. In an earlier interview in this series, he answered some general questions about his video remixing of poems from the Poetry Storehouse. Since Marc is also an electronic composer/musician and puts such a strong emphasis on the sound of the poetry he adapts to video, we wanted to question him in a bit more depth about the role of sound and music in his work.

Talk about how you view the soundtrack as an element of film-poem creation. Which comes first for you—the soundtrack or the images?

I always consider my soundscapes the mortar of my videopoems. They pull the combination of the different building blocks together and hold them there. Very often they set the pace and lay down the main atmosphere of the whole video.

It doesn’t matter what came first (with me it’s sometimes the music, sometimes the images, sometimes the poem), but I do construct a soundtrack (with the reading) as a base before I start my editing, always—even if I had the images first. That provides me a timeline to work with.

Do you always build your own soundtrack or do you sometimes use tracks made by others? How do you decide whether to make your own or not?

In 90 percent of my works I have built my own soundscapes, not that I consider myself a great composer—certainly not a musician in the strict sense of the word. But I just love making those.

I worked with others a few times. (Kathy McTavish is a great collaborator, but also Lunova Labs, Hanklebury and Sonologyst are a few of my SoundCloud friends I have worked with.)

Talk about the process of building a soundtrack. What comes first? How does the work process develop?

That’s a hard one. I work organically. I love sounds, industrial as well as natural. I record sounds often—from crinkly paper and plastic to to coke cans, coffee and other household appliances, nature sounds, etc. I also use a collection of toy instruments to play with.

I collect my recordings just as I do with footage and images. I have a library of sounds and melodies that I use as building blocks. So it’s hard to say what comes first.

I start with a sound, add another, and another, shift, stretch, combine, add a fleeting melody or arrangement here and there… shift again… until, during that process, something happens. Some things suddenly ‘click’ and work together.

When dealing with a poem, I use the recording of the poem as one of the building blocks. Sometimes I build around the poem, sometimes I use (re-edited) existing tracks to lay the poem in.

What sort of hardware and software do you use to create your soundtracks? Have you always used these, or has there been a progression in the sophistication of your sound tools over the years?

I use a combination of tools. I record my sounds analog (with an old tape recorder) as well a digitally (with a simple USB microphone, a Yeti) All my sounds are put into digital files using software by Magix (originally bought to transfer my old vinyl collection to MP3)

To create new arrangements and mix them with these soundfiles I also use Magix (Music Maker).

In MIDI I can ‘play’ any sequence of notes in any instrument, sound or style and combine it all in different tracks.

I would love to get my hands on some real (but old) instruments. I love the sound of anything ‘broken’. I would also love to get some better recording equipment (better mic’s, a new recorder…) but all those things cost money and take up space. (The space is there—one day my attic will be a full studio :-) —but the money isn’t.)

Give us an example of a soundtrack you created recently that you are very happy with – why did this one work out so well in your view? (If you can’t choose, how about that amazing soundtrack for ‘Sweet Tea’ by Eric Blanchard at the Storehouse..?)

I wouldn’t use one If I didn’t believe it worked, but some work better than others I guess. It’s also in the ear of the viewer.

I kinda liked this one:
Bees in the Eaves on SoundCloud

I loved the combination of that metallic-sounding percussion (for those who want to know: it’s the sound of an old wind-up music box, stretched and slowed down until it sounded like light metal plates) with the simple and light drone (a combination of MIDI sounds, wind—me blowing into the mic—and violins. Also slowed down). The harsh sounds (electronic) at the end come from this great online theremin I recently found, and I let them clash with some piano sounds I played on this online instrument and the metallic percussion of the intro.

But that’s the last time I let someone peek into the cooking pots! I myself, when hearing great soundscapes, don’t want to know where certain sounds come from or how and with what they were made.

What is your advice on soundtracks to film-makers who are just starting out?

Listen, watch and learn. Experiment! Trial and error and keep the errors!

New additions to the web resources page: video effects, videos from space, and Soundcloud

UPDATE (9/1): I’ve added close to a dozen more links in the past three days, courtesy of Nic.

  • I’ve updated the list of Web resources for videopoem makers to add some new links. I discovered last month that SoundCloud, the online audio-sharing site for musicians (and sometimes spoken-word artists), encourages members to apply Creative Commons licenses to their works and make them available for download (though frustratingly, some do the former and neglect to do that latter). Adding to the site’s utility for remixers and filmmakers is a very useful advanced search function, even better than ccMixter, so if for example you want to find a piece of electronica with French horns that’s licensed CC non-commercial, you can do that. The site overall is very comparable to Jamendo, but I think may have even more users.

A couple weeks ago, Diane Lockward let me know about a whole new category of free resources: prekeyed footage, brief stock clips and other video effects. I have so far included just the two sites she recommended, Footage Crate and Movietools.info; others I looked at seemed pretty spammy.

The most recent addition comes from Nic S., who has just made her first videopoem after being so heavily exploited often called upon to provide audio for videos by me and Swoon. In addition to the Prelinger Archives, Nic got the bright idea of using footage from the NASA Video Gallery, which, as I say on the resource list, looks like the go-to site site for videos of the earth from space and other cool spacey stuff. The site’s very easy to navigate, and every video has a download link.

Thanks, Nic and Diane! And if anyone else has a discovery to share, please don’t be shy.

New directories: poetry film festivals, and free-to-use audio and video

I’ve just posted two new pages of resources for videopoem and poetry-film makers.

The Poetry film festival list includes websites and, where available, Facebook pages for regularly occurring poetry film festivals. Left off the list, at least for now, are all the more general film festivals to which poetry films might be submitted.

Web resources for videopoem makers includes information on determining what’s free to use, as well as links to free and Creative Commons-licensed film and video, spoken word, sound and music collections. I also include a link to the software I use for downloading videos from the web, but I welcome other suggestions.

Please use the comments here or at the respective pages to alert me about other links I should include. I would also encourage people who regularly use Creative Commons-licensed material to follow the Golden Rule and apply a “copyleft” license to your own work, as well. (I don’t always remember to do this myself, but I should.)