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  • Thom Holmes

An Electronic Poetry Slam

My Book/eBook: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.

My Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music



Back in episode 31, I presented a program built around electronic music and literature. Those examples from the archives represented bold depictions of mostly big works of literature combined with electronic music. For this episode, I thought I would dip into the archive for electronic music combined with poetry. What I discovered was an interesting vein of readings and music compositions either spun around, inspired by, or integrated with poetry. Some was pretty abstract, rich with experimentation and an exploration of the voice as an instrument of sound, augmented by editing and processing into a higher form of expression. There’s the early experimental work by French sound poet Francois Dufrene who when combined with the tape manipulations created by composer Jean Baronnet created a piece called U47. Then, there existed a really interesting experimental art scene in Canada during the late 1960s driven by poets and electroic music. Intersystems featured the poetry of Blake Parker and the electronic music of John Mills-Cockell. We will hear two examples from Intersystems, one in which the poetry is intercut with the music, another in which the poetry is processed woven into the electronic sound. Independently, around the same time, there was a group of Canadian artists and poets who spun out several recorded magazines of text-sound works in 1968 under the guise of See/Hear Productions. We will hear several works by Bruce Clarke and Ann Pickburn, Jim Brown, and Bill Bissett, all dressed up by electronic sounds created by Wayne Carr. I have featured the legendary Ruth White on this podcast before. She of early Moog synthesizer fame. We’ll hear a couple more works from her around the writings of Charles Baudelaire. We must include a couple of spoken word tracks from Robert Ashley who created such an amazing legacy of electronic sound works involving his own texts. Other tracks are by the computer composer Charles Dodge, a little hear work by Laurie Anderson, William Hellerman and his setting for a poem by Robert Duncan, and a track from 1958 and a French-Canadian poet. In addition, we’ll feature a special treat by the amazing vocalist Joan La Barbara from her album Tapesongs. The work is called “Cathing” and offers an apparent rebuff of another famous at the time.


"Cathing" was composed, produced, edited and sung by Joan La Barbara, the story behind this piece is a great one. In the 1970s, La Barbara, along with Meredith Monk, emerged in America as two of the premiere practitioners of avant garde vocalizing. Some might recognize the name of this piece, Cathing, as possibly a tribute to Cathy Berberian, the earlier generation’s version of an avant-garde “diva.” Something I don’t think La Barbara and Monk would ever have considered themselves, as influential and inspiring as their work has been. Rather than being a tribute to Berberian, La Barbara was responding to a radio interview apparently broadcast during the intermission of her concert at the 1977 Holland Festival. Berberian was outspoken about the new generation of vocalists and wondered out loud how any respectable composer could write for “one of those singers.” La Barbara’s work was composed in response. She took 20 phrases of excerpts from the interview, edited and rearranged them, and altered them electronically to compose this piece. In her liner notes, she only identifies Berberian as another “professional singer.” Take that!


Episode 63

An Electronic Poetry Slam


Playlist

1. Roland Giguere, “Les Heures Lentes” from Voix De 8 Poètes Du Canada (1958 Folkways). Spoken poetry intermixed with musique concrete by Francois Morel. The electronic music and poetry are never heard simultaneously on this album, but the music was composed to set the tone for each work that followed. 1:29.


2. François Dufrêne & Jean Baronnet, “U 47” from A Panorama Of Experimental Music, Vol. 1: Electronic Music / Musique Concrete (1967 Mercury). Dufrêne was a French sound poet and visual artist who performed what he called "crirythmes," a style of vocal noises. The electronic music on tape was composed by Baronnet, who was a co-founder, with Pierre Henry, of Studio Apsome, their private studio for electronic music, after their break from the GRM studios of Pierre Schaeffer in 1958. Recorded under the supervision of Pierre Henry, in collaboration with the sound laboratories of the West German Radio (Cologne), Italian Radio (Milan), French Radio and Television (Paris), and the Studio Apsome (Paris). 3:33


3. Intersystems, “A Cave in the Country” from Peachy (1967 Pentagon). This was the Canadian experimental music band that produced some radically original music and performed live events mostly in the Toronto area from 1967 to 1969. Poetry and vocals by Blake Parker. Electronic music using the Moog Modular synthesizer by John Mills-Cockell. Performers, Blake Parker, Dik Zander, John Mills-Cockell, Michael Hayden. 1:50


4. Intersystems, “Carelessly Draped in Black” from Peachy (1967 Pentagon). This was the Canadian experimental music band that produced some radically original music and performed live events mostly in the Toronto area from 1967 to 1969. Poetry and vocals by Blake Parker. Electronic music using the Moog Modular synthesizer by John Mills-Cockell. Performers, Blake Parker, Dik Zander, John Mills-Cockell, Michael Hayden. 4:32


5. Bruce Clarke, “Of Spiralling Why” from The First See + Hear (1968 See/Hear Productions). From See/Hear, a quarterly publication of recordings of contemporary sound arts. There were three issues total. All from Canada. When there was electronic music, it was provided and created by Wayne Carr using a Buchla Box. Carr was associated with all three of the See/Hear albums/issues. This piece was commissioned for the Adelaide 1968 Arts Festival by the Melbourne ISCM, fragments of poetry were chosen at random from the unpublished works of the late Ann Pickburn, whom I believe you hear performing her words on this track. 9:35


6. Jim Brown and Wayne Carr, “Blues for Electric” from Oh See Can You Say (1968 See/Hear). Poetry and synthesizer. Poetry and voice, Jim Brown; engineer, Buchla Box, Wayne Carr. The second LP of this quarterly LP/magazine that seemed to only have three issues. “Wayne Carr plays synthesizer whenever it happens.” This is noted on another LP as a Buchla Box, so I’ve assumed that’s what he used on all three albums. 3:09


7. bill bissett & Th Mandan Massacre (sp), “fires in th tempul” from Awake In Th Red Desert (1968 See/Hear Productions). Poetry and voice, Bill Bissett; Toy Flute, Roger Tentrey; Flute, Tape Recorder, Ross Barrett; Guitar, Terry Beauchamp; Percussion, Gregg Simpson, Harley McConnell, Ken Paterson, Martina Clinton; Producer, Jim Brown; Buchla Box, engineer, Wayne Carr. 3:32


8. bill bissett & Th Mandan Massacre (sp), “now according to paragraph c” from Awake In Th Red Desert (1968 See/Hear Productions). Poetry and voice, Bill Bissett; Toy Flute, Roger Tentrey; Flute, Tape Recorder, Ross Barrett; Guitar, Terry Beauchamp; Percussion, Gregg Simpson, Harley McConnell, Ken Paterson, Martina Clinton; Producer, Jim Brown; Buchla Box, engineer, Wayne Carr. 2:40


9. Ruth White, “The Irremediable” from Flowers Of Evil (1969 Limelight). Electronic music, translations, and vocalizations by Ruth White. Words by Charles Baudelaire. Legendary American electronic music pioneer, most noted for her early explorations of sound using the Moog synthesizer. "An electronic setting of the poems of Charles Baudelaire composed and realized by Ruth White." 4:55


10.Ruth White, “The Cat” from Flowers Of Evil (1969 Limelight). Electronic music, translations, and vocalizations by Ruth White. Words by Charles Baudelaire. Legendary American electronic music pioneer, most noted for her early explorations of sound using the Moog synthesizer. "An electronic setting of the poems of Charles Baudelaire composed and realized by Ruth White." 3:27


11.Charles Dodge, “Speech Songs: No. 1 When I Am With You (Excerpt)” and “Speech Songs: No. 2 He Destroyed Her Image (Excerpt)” from from 10+2: 12 American Text Sound Pieces (1975 1750 Arch Records). Realized at the Bell Telephone Laboratories for computer music in 1975. 3:45


12.William Hellermann, “Passages 13 – The Fire (For Trumpet & Tape)” from Peter Maxwell Davies / Lucia Dlugoszewski / William Hellerman, Gerard Schwarz, Ursula Oppens, The New Trumpet (1975 Nonesuch). Composed by William Hellermann; voices, Jacqueline Hellerman, John P. Thomas, Marsha Immanuel, and Michael O'Brien; words by Robert Duncan. This poem was first published in 'Poetry,' April-May 1965. Tape realized by Hellerman at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. 25:28


13.Robert Ashley, “In Sara, Mencken, Christ And Beethoven There Were Men And Women (Excerpt)” from 10+2: 12 American Text Sound Pieces (1975 1750 Arch Records). Lyrics By – John Barton Wolgamot; Moog Synthesizer,Paul DeMarinis; Voice, Robert Ashley. Excerpt from an album-length work released in 1974 on Cramps Records. 3:53


14.Robert Ashley, “Interiors with Flash” from Big Ego (1978 Giorno Poetry Systems). A study for what would become Automatic Writing, a longer work by Ashley. recorded at Mills College, Oakland, California, May 14, 1978. Voice, Mimi Johnson; Electronics, Polymoog, Voice, written, produced, and mixed by Robert Ashley. 3:05


15.Joan La Barbara, “Cathing” from Tapesongs (1977 Chiaroscuro Records). Composed, produced, edited and sung by Joan La Barbara. The story behind this piece is a great one. In the 1970s, La Barbara, along with Meredith Monk, emerged in America as two of the premiere practitioners of avant garde vocalizing. Some might recognize the name of this piece as possibly a tribute to Cathy Berberian, the earlier generation’s version of an avant garde diva (La Barbara and Monk would never consider themselves as divas in the sense that Berberian was). Rather than being a tribute to Berberian, La Barbara was responding to a radio interview (apparently broadcast during the intermission of her concert at the 1977 Holland Festival). Berberian was outspoken about the new generation of vocalists and wondered out loud how any respectable composer could write for “one of those singers.” La Barbara’s response, composed in response, took excerpts from the interview (20 phrases), edited and rearranged them, altered them electronically to compose this piece. In her liner notes, she only identifies Berberian as another “professional singer.” Take that! 8:01.


16.Laurie Anderson, “Closed Circuits” from You're The Guy I Want To Share My Money With (1981 Girono Poetry Systems). One of Anderson’s tracks from this 2-LP collection of text and poetry that also includes works by John Giorno and William Burroughs. I think this was the tenth album from Giorno that began in 1975 with the Dial-A-Poem Poets. Electronics (Microphone Stand Turned Through Harmonizer), Wood Block, voice, Laurie Anderson. 7:23.


Background music for opening

  • Laurie Anderson, “Dr. Miller” from You're The Guy I Want To Share My Money With (1981 Girono Poetry Systems). Another of Anderson’s tracks from this 2-LP collection of text and poetry that also includes works by John Giorno and William Burroughs. This is another version of a track that later appeared on Anderson’s Unted States Live LP in 1984. Saxophone, Perry Hoberman; Synthesizer, Percussion, voice, Laurie Anderson. 4:19

Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

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NOISE AND NOTATIONS

Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.