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‘Sound Poetry and Performance Technique’

One of my favourite things to do in the old days was to take my friends along to the experimental music and poetry night at The Klinker in Dalston, which at the time was in a pub that was then a bit grimy but nowadays is, predictably, very posh and full of people who wear hats and all that. Not knowing how to feel is my favourite thing as an audience member… are we allowed to laugh? Or is it serious … or sad? Someone like my brother who is a bit Jeremy Clarkson but not horrible is the best kind of person to take to these nights – they are aghast.

One time a woman burst into the little back room where the event was held and started complaining that we were pretentious and awful (she was quite drunk I think, I’m not sure why she was so upset… although secret parties can be pretty annoying, let’s face it). Instead of asking her to leave, the act on stage who were doing a kind of ambient improv, invited her to step up to the mic to air her grievances, which she drunkenly agreed to. They then proceeded to put effects on her voice and muck about with the pitch so that her protest became part of the art. By the end of it she was having a really good time.

She was just one of the many sound artists that I have seen at The Klinker over the years. The night is run by Hugh Metcalfe who has been in several bands and has performed many times with legendary sound poet Bob Cobbing.

Bob Cobbing used his voice as an instrument as all good sound poets do, creating strange guttural noises which were absurd but could also be full of meaning. In fact, to most people sound poetry is quite difficult to listen to without the feeling that something is amiss, it’s weird and unsettling to hear grown people ‘babble’ like babies or make nonsensical noises:

It is human nature to want to classify things, and as with all experimental art, sound poetry is often hard to understand. However if you look at it as a type of incantation, away from our often blinkered Western understanding then it is actually one of the most natural things in the world to make noises in an attempt to mimic the sounds around us, animals, the weather, engines- children do it all the time. Jerome Rothenberg who coined the term ethnopoetics, went beyond collecting folk songs from all over the world and included sound poetry and the texts and scenarios for ritual events.

Ethnopoetics emphasizes the written word, how it can be illuminated through oral performance (spoken, sung, or chanted) and asks what a distant culture’s forms can teach us and our poetics linguistically.

Of course the Dadaists referred to their movement as:

‘the primal source of all art. Dada is for the ‘without sense’ of art, which is not to say non-sense. Dada is without sense like nature. Dada is for nature and against art. Dada is direct like nature and tries to find for each its real place.’

Hans Arp produced a series of poems where words and phrases were placed together not for their semantic message, but for the possibility in creating sensation through their associate sounds.

What I am interested in is how we can use sound to arrive at a meaning that we have not before been aware of. Poetry is often spoken of as hard to understand, but we have no trepidation around music. What is it about words specifically that inspire fear? How do we intend for our writing to be heard? It is essential that we learn about the relationship we have to our work as we perform. Reading aloud informs our understanding of a text, as much as the text influences the performance. It is this synchronicity that I hope to explore, in funny little basements but also online. Let’s get away from the dreaded ‘poet voice’ and make something dynamic and engaging before we all fall asleep.

Poet voice be gone! Boom, roar, thunder and split some ears on Emma Hammond’s new online course, ‘Sound Poetry and Performance Technique’. Book now online or ring us on 0207 582 1679.

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