Saturday, July 10, 2010

Word as Sound

A couple of evenings ago I walked into the Artword Artbar late because I wanted to take a quick listen to a group I had heard making some intriguing music the weekend before. The Blues Explosion (Sarah Good et al.) had finished one set; in the interval a group calling themselves slowly, slowly were performing. I thought they sounded interesting enough to wait through until the last set. It turned out that they were the ones who impressed me.

The five person collective performed on a number of various instruments, interspersed by vocal phrasings rather than typically structured “songs.” With the interplay between voice and instrumentation and the minimal of layering over and against each other, it made for a presentation quite intriguing to the ear.

Most interesting to me as a poet and spoken word aficionado was one piece when the group read text as part of the presentation. The music faded out (it did not stop abruptly) and the focus became the speaking voice, first by a few and then involving the whole collective. As this continued it felt to me that the content, the subject matter, the meaning, were not as important as the voices as they wove together. It felt like overhearing conversation at a party but standing away from direct involvement with it.

Later I wondered if this had any relationship to what sound poets do. They take words and parts of words, combinations of sounds that usually have specific meanings, and turn them into a pattern that may not have been there before. These musicians took ordinary words and sentences and did not change anything except the presentation as music, placed them in a different context and asked you to hear them in an unusual way.

It’s one thing to read aloud a newspaper article and, through emphasis, inflection and intonation, make it sound like poetry. (I have heard/seen that done.) It’s another to take the banality of the human voice in conversation and make it music. But then there’s the creative spirit that joins the poet and musician. There is not and should not be a wall between artistic disciplines, no cubbyholes to hold and contain.

Just as a postscript, when Sarah Good returned to the stage (alone this time) and began a series of electronic sound manipulations I slipped away. It seemed almost common compared to what I had experienced.

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