Poetry and Other Sounds

I think my most daring deed and greatest failure was to create a blog as a mixture of resource, community, and fanzine for recording poets. Specifically poetry combined with music or other sounds.

This would be a WordPress blog called Poetry and Other Sounds, first appearing online April 2012.

It was inspired by Tape Op, a magazine for recording engineers, in two ways. Every two months I get an issue in the mail that is filled with interviews of engineers, producers, gear designers, musicians, sound designers, film music editors, archivists, and others. There’s a sense of history of the medium as well as a hint at current affairs. There are explorations of both the gear and the creativity that goes on behind the scenes of every recording. We find out what’s going on in the world’s greatest studios as well as the cobbling of destitute songwriters in their family’s basement. It is a community for those who make recordings and for those of us who want to learn from them.

That was the background inspiration, the very existence of such an exceptionally rich magazine that was created out of necessity and love of the art. The other is more specific. In issue 85 there was an interview with Brian Eno. They had a sidebar discussion of his collaboration with poet Rick Holland in which he mentions that it’s something of an unknown genre. For me that triggered a letter to the editor and subsequently pushed me into creating the blog. We need a way for recording poets to hear one another and to learn more about the art (very few of us are at home in a studio or with recording tools and might even be outright technophobes).

I wanted to introduce people to some of the more readily available recordings such as the one by Eno and Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite by Farewell Poetry as well as some of the very obscure artists I was finding on SoundCloud, especially in Mark Goodwin’s Air to Hear. In part it sprang out of my enthusiasm for all the cool stuff I was finding on SoundCloud in 2012, finding out that I wasn’t the only one making this weird stuff (and finding that no two of us did much of anything alike except for the spoken poetry). I wanted to establish whatever sense of history of such work there is. I wanted us all to get to know each other. I wanted everyone to hear of how they might go about recording on any budget, with almost any tool that can capture sound. More than sharing my own limited skills and experiences, I was hoping we could all learn from each other.

I’ll tell you some of the reasons it didn’t become the community centerpiece I had hoped it would.

  • Very simply, I lack the temperament of an editor. I also lack the training and/or background. Some of this I believe I could overcome through time, native intelligence, and experience. But I still think I’m missing something essential that is needed to make a success of a periodical.
  • Even in the age of the internet I don’t think a loner and homebody is the best person for the job. You need to keep your fingers on the pulse of a movement. You need to get out there and see and hear and feel what people are doing. You have to be hanging out on street corners and in clubs and galleries; you have to be exchanging phone numbers and connections. You have to like to be around people and in the thick of things.
  • Time. Someone who comes home from a day job and falls asleep before dinner, someone scrambling to make whatever temporal free space they can to make their own art or to compile and archive it, someone who hangs out with his partner and children in those precious hours off the corporate clock isn’t going to see what the rest of the world is up to, even with the help of the internet. No networking plus no research equals a very out of touch person.
  • It doesn’t help that it’s an almost non-existent field. Everyone I’ve talked to who makes this sort of art shares my feeling that it’s a very rarefied field. Even for someone like me who celebrates all art-making regardless of skill there are probably not more than hundreds or a couple thousand recording poets all over the world, many of us thinking we’re the only one, generally making something of less than commercial quality. If you’re snobbier about it, the field might shrink to dozens of artists. And what has been released for commercial consumption can probably be limited to a few albums per year. Or per decade. It seems musicians never know what to do with that weird poet person if they’re not going to sing. And how many poets make their own music or other audio background?

Poetry and Other Sounds was a wonderful idea. I want to thank Tape Op editor Larry Crane for showing me what can be done with dedication and a lot of hard work.

Poetry and Other Sounds, it’s time hasn’t come. I haven’t totally given up on the blog though I feel I have little to offer any time soon. By all means give it a read. Better yet, contribute. Tells us what you’re working on or what your friends are up to. Poetry and Other Sounds was never meant to be my personal mouthpiece.

(Many of the links to SoundCloud are likely to be dead. I found this out almost immediately. It’s a very unstable environment (compared, say, to archive.org, which is a whole other problem). Many of us have only had the free membership with a limited amount to how much you could upload. So we’d delete older tracks to make room for what is new. Some of us sprang for the paid memberships which allowed possibly unlimited uploads only to find the changes at the site making our experience miserable, as I’ve mentioned in another post. We would drop our paid memberships and begin deleting recordings. Others among us would change our name or identity with some regularity, or totally change what we were posting. Or just pull our recordings for no obvious reason. I assume you’ll find this as frustrating as I do. I’m kind of a librarian at heart.)

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