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Arrigo LORA-TOTINO (Italy)

Arrigo Lora-Totino (b. 1928) Ц poet, performer, essay writer, artist, publisher. One of the pioneers and classics of the European concrete and sound poetry, the key figure in the Italian school of experimental poetry. Author of numerous essays on visual and sound poetry in various magazines, literary collections, and catalogues on contemporary art. In 1978 he produced a basic anthology of the world sound poetry Futura, Poesia Sonora (historical-critical essay, seven LPs, Milano: Cramps Records, 1978). He held more than one hundred and eighty show-performances in various countries. For more information see the bio-bibliography of the participant.

Taken from: Corrosive Signs: Essays on Experimental Poetry (Visual, Concrete, Alternative) (ed. Cesar Espinosa, Washington, D.C.: Maisonneuve Press, 1990). The material has been kindly granted by C. Espinosa. © 1982 Arrigo Lora-Totino, Torino.

SOUND POETRY

Two ways of reading a poetic text can be distinguished, silent reading of the printed page or reading aloud, declamation. Before the invention of writing, declamation dominated; the poem was declaimed, and transmitted, to an accompaniment of musical instruments, the lyre, for example, in the case of the Homeric poets. With the arrival of writing and then of printing, aesthetic enjoyment of poetry was displaced almost exclusively toward the pole of silent reading. This caused the disappearance of the taste for values such as those of the intonation of speech, its intrinsic rhythm (= respiration), the timbre of the voice, as well as expressive mimicry narrowly bound to diction. It is also certain that next to the poet (and the dramatist) the category of professional actor was formed, who still had neither voice nor vote in the creative act of the poem but was limited to the mere execution of the text.

At the beginning of the new literary foundation of Europe, the school of the Provencal troubadors looked to reappropriate (= to find) the values of direct diction, and in fact these authors were simultaneously poets and musicians. Soon, however, the custom of silent reading regained the lead, ratified by the enormous Petrarchan influence.

Arturo Martini.
Untitled, 1918

The modern avant-garde Ц in the first place Italian futurism with the invention of words in liberty, the Russian УzaumФ poets, and then dadaism Ц rediscovered the fact that the exercise of language is above all a sound flux that belongs to the Уoral-audialФ circuit, mouth-ears. Renouncing orality for writing implied numerous misfortunes: to speak is a total act, without aesthetics, harmonious, where the subject is present with all his faculties, while writing is an example of sensory deprivation, abstraction, unilateral specialization of certain faculties at the cost of others. The individual of the era of writing is relatively unhappy, renounces a good dose of libido in order to submit himself to a series of self-restrictions that usurp from him part of the pleasure of the vocal act.

Arrigo Lora-Totino.
Trio prosodico #1
(score B), 1977

As a consequence, with the first European avant-gardes there appears a major interest in signifiers, the onomatopoeias, that tend to become unfastened from the subjection of semantic roots (lexemes) or from endings and grammatical markers (morphemes). Thus, the poetТs work leads into the word, becomes intra-verbal, liberating all the acoustic splendor of the phoneme in its infinite minimalist gradations.

Contemporaneously, in France toward 1912-14 poetic simultaneism as theorized and practiced by Henri-Martin Barzun, F. Divoire, and S. Voirol was a unique, fit form to express the complexity of the modern world. The poetТs writing is multiplied in more dissonant and simultaneously dramatic voices, the text is transformed into a score, and the real form of poetry will no longer be written but sound: phonograph, radio, video.

Franz Mon.
A sound poetry score
(fragment), 1962

This displacement of the creative interest of signifieds towards signifiers implies a series of consequences. The first is that the author cannot convert himself into a sound poet if he is limited to declaiming texts composed for silent reading (= linear poetry, in verses, proper to the Western tradition), because in such a case he does no more than to regress to the eighteenth-century way of the Уfine dicitoreФ and nothing more. The second is that it is unique to the creative act that the poet must control a series of parameters that had earlier been canceled: intonation (that is to say, Уmelody of the spokenФ), rhythm, timbre and tone of the voice, simultaneity of more dissonant voices, excitations, relative weightings, silences, and so on. It is worth mentioning that the author will no longer write a linear poem, but a verbal score constructed expressly for vocal execution. The third consequence is that the sound poet fatally aspires to visualize the public, to recognize it physically, leaving the ivory tower proper, tending towards spectacle, towards a form that would be defined as Уtheater of the wordФ in order to distinguish it from traditional theater.

Enzo Minarelli.
Oscibil, 1984

Finally, one more observation: many predicates have been proposed for this form of poetry, from phonetic to phonic poetry, Lautgedichte, sound poem, poem-score, vocal poetry, and so on. In agreement with many other authors, I consider the term Уsound poetryФ to be the most satisfactory. Specifically, phonetic poetry is insufficient because it refers exclusively to the alphabetic dadaist and lettrist phoneticism inaugurated by Raoul Hausmann and Kurt Schwitters.

Jaap Blonk, Georges Aperghis.
Recitation #11, 1997

Translated by Harry Polkinhorn.

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