~ audiopoetry ~

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.

Interview with poet-filmmaker Sara Anika Mithra at Voice Alpha

Voice Alpha, a blog focused on reading poetry aloud for an audience, has an interview with American poet Sara Anika Mithra about her use of audio- and videopoetry. I was especially struck by her description of how doing audio recordings helps her work through early drafts of poems, but she made some interesting points about video remix as well:

On Vimeo, with my found footage poem-videos, I’m engaging a distinct medium — video — that acts like a carrier oil for perfume. Poetry can be too rarefied to carry scent alone. Unlike recording my performances, the process for editing video out of archival footage is _not_ closely related to writing. Finding home movies from the 50s and splicing them into a three minute video is a subtractive process, like sculpture — paring away excess scraps of image to create a tone more than a narrative. It’s a decadent and aesthetic practice that gives each poem a visual soundtrack. I love editing video — it eats away hours of time and allows pleasure, plus gives me the chance to collaborate with musicians on the score. These massive projects take months, so I need to commit to a poem that bears scrutiny without boring me.

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!

Audiopoetry exhibition in Leicester features twelve film-poems

Twelve poetry films will be included in an exhibition of audiopoetry beginning Monday at the Cube Gallery in Leicester, England.

Poems, Places & Soundscapes is an international exhibition of digitally produced sound-&-poetry focusing on place and soundscape, installed in Leicester’s Cube Gallery (part of The Phoenix arts complex) from Monday 7 April to Friday 25 April 2014 (see opening times below). Poet Mark Goodwin and Brian Lewis (of Longbarrow Press) bring together and present a range of vivid, immersive sound-enhanced poetry made through various poet, musician and sound-designer collaborations, as well as by individual poet-sound-artists. The exhibition also includes a selection of ‘place-entranced’ film-poems.

An open and informal panel discussion about sound-enhanced poetry and film-poems will take place at 6.30pm on Thursday 10 April 2014 at The Phoenix (4 Midland Street, Leicester, LE1 1TG).

4 Midland Street

Opening Hours
for the Phoenix’s Cube Gallery and Cafe Bar
Mon to Fri: 9am – 11pm
Sat to Sun: 10am – 11pm

This exhibition is part of Mark Goodwin’s Sound-Enhanced Poetry project, which was awarded an Arts Council England Grants for the arts in 2013.

Visit the Poems, Places & Soundscapes website for more information.

Doing videopoetry live, karaoke-style

I have an essay up at Voice Alpha, a group blog about reading poetry alive for an audience, on the unique challenges and rewards of doing a live reading accompanied by “karaoke” versions of videopoems — videopoems from which the poem has been stripped. I began by discussing a terrific example of this kind of performance which I’d been lucky enough to see this summer at the Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar, Scotland — the inspiration for my own first venture into videopoem karaoke this past Wednesday. Here’s part of what I concluded:

There was simply no question that I’d have to practice my ass off for a couple of days in advance, reading the poems over and over while the videos played in a VLC playlist on my laptop. With regular poetry readings, practice might seem optional (at least to poets who don’t read this site), but with audiovisual accompaniment, you have to come in on cue or the whole thing flops. I had assumed the screen would be behind me and prepared accordingly, but with it situated to my right, I didn’t have to glance exclusively at my laptop for visual cues.

Complete memorization of the poems would not have been a bad thing, much as I resist internalizing my own words to that degree. I wouldn’t have had to fumble with a book and set list, and possibly could’ve engaged more with the audience. However, with the audience focused on the screen, what really mattered was my vocal delivery, not eye contact. And with the accompanying music being generally melodic and at points down-right funky, it took off the pressure to give an absolutely flawless reading. So in a way, this approach offers a bit of a crutch to those of us (95% of poets?) who are not highly skilled performers.

There’s nothing like a live reading to improve one’s delivery, though. I had been afraid that the necessity to sync up my reading with prerecorded music and images might make for kind of a mechanical delivery, but I don’t think that happened. In fact, for some of the poems in the set, I found myself reading in a more intense, impassioned style than I used when I’d recorded myself alone in a quiet bedroom for the online versions of the videopoems. And since I had to pay close attention to the music for many of my cues, I think this approach actually improved my over-all sense of timing and rhythm.

I’d love to hear impressions from other poets who have given audio-visually enhanced readings. I know of quite a few.