Jean-Pierre BOBILLOT (France)
Jean-Pierre Bobillot (b. 1950) –
poet, writer, essay writer, researcher. Published
both in France and abroad a great number of articles, dedicated to the theory of
literature, to the contemporary trends in poetry, and also to Rimbaud, Mallarme
and Apollinaire’s creative activities. Founded and was director of the
publisher’s series “Collection Electre”, within which a number of poetry books,
brochures and audio pieces of contemporary authors have been published since
1985. Conducted numerous poetry readings, shows and performances both in France
and abroad. At present he is a professor at the department of French literature
of the University Stendhal (Grenoble). Organized and participated in a number of
international conferences and symposiums on the issues of contemporary
literature and art. For more
information see the bio-bibliography of the participant
Taken from the poet’s manuscript.
© 1998 Jean-Pierre Bobillot, Grenoble.
SOUND POETRY: A VIEW FROM FRANCE
“Poesie Sonore” (Sound Poetry) refers to a group of wide-ranging and divergent original practices, dating from the 1950’s, which emphasize the sound of the human voice. Adopting electric- and electronic-acoustical tools, Sound Poetry could range anywhere from using a simple microphone, during moments of more or less improvised public presentations (Francois Dufrene, Crirythmes), through creative uses of the tape recorder, which involved the direct manipulation of the magnetic tape itself (Henri Chopin , Audio-poemes; Bernard Heidsieck , Poemes-partitions), to computer-generated sequencing (Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville, Permutations).
The rarity and cumbersomeness of this nascent technology was constraining in many ways. It seemed more advantageous to by-pass all this equipment and to concentrate on diction itself (Michele Metail, “Complements de noms”). Almost all live reading – whether or not it utilizes previously recorded sections, whether it is an exclusively vocal composition, whether it is made from sounds produced by the body (Chopin) or from other sources (Heidsieck) – contains a gestural aspect, however minimal, involving the body of the poet reading, the space in which he reads, and the audience who watches and listens. In the 1960’s, taking this dimension into account, Bernard Heidsieck coined the alternative term of “Poesie Action” (Performance Poetry). Eventually a kind of scenic intervention, partial to action, began to emerge (Julien Blaine , Joel Hubaut ). This was sometimes detrimental to the reading and its dissemination. One may therefore consider this performance along the lines of those practiced by many artists, or, in the fore-front, by the non-artists pertaining to or associating with the non-group Fluxus (Robert Filliou, Charles Dreyfus, Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux). The audience for this cosmopolitan poetry is quite large. The frontiers of this poetry are very porous. Bare diction, even amplified, no longer distinguishes itself by adopting the principle of the public reading, as practiced by authors dedicated to “written poetry”. For example, Gherasim Luca, who often presented his work with the “sound poets”, finds himself sometimes overly-associated with them.
The treatment of the voice for itself, without concern for meaning, also approaches music, either vocal or electro-acoustical (Chopin), to the point of becoming one of its components. For example, Dufrene was able to contribute to the “Fragments pour Artaud”, by Pierre Henry. And a poet, whose major works do not specifically pertain to Sound or Action Poetry, nevertheless often expresses himself in an incontestably similar manner (Jean-Francois Bory , Bruno Montels, Jacques Demarcq, Lucien Suel, Sylvie Neve, Alain Robinet), to say nothing of those who, pertaining to or associating with the group “TXT”, attempted to make sounds heard through a diversity of mouth-expressions, a group which Christian Prigent baptized the “voix-de-l’ecrit” (voice-of-the-written) (Prigent, Jean-Pierre Verheggen, Pierre Le Pillouer).
Two criteria seem predominate here. On one side, the book, the page, and the imprint, are no longer the proper limits of poetic publication as they will soon be replaced by the disc (flexi-disc, vinyl, CD), magnetic tape, audio cassette, video, CD-Rom, and the internet. On the other side, the medium of dissemination and achievement, which is its most indispensable concern – and its most intrinsic specificity, – remains reading/diffusion/action, no matter what proportion of each is or is not represented in the work, a live version, or a recording of the given work.
Michèle Métail & Louis Roquin.
This double mode of existence and circulation once again recalls the historic origins of Sound Poetry. On one side, a series of public manifestations, such as the evening meetings of “poesie ouverte” (open poetry), involving the Domaine Poetique in Paris, 1962-63, with Dufrene, Heidsieck, Luca, Filliou, Gysin, Jean-Clarence Lambert, and Emmett Williams. Then, dating from 1968, the “text-sound composition” festivals at Stockholm led by Sten Hanson; and the Polyphonix festival of “poesie directe” (direct poetry), founded by Jean-Jacques Lebel in 1979, in Paris, which, wandering across the world, continue to this day. On the other side, the review “OU”, founded and directed by Henri Chopin, the first number of which appeared in 1964, first at Sceaux and then at Ingatestone. These were the very first, and for ten years, the only regular edition of recorded poetry issued on record. Also, the series of “Text-Sound Compositions” emanating from the Swedish festivals needs to be mentioned, but most other noteworthy sound publications were single editions, conceived like anthologies, as for example, the album “Polyphonix” of 1984.
This duality of preoccupation and aesthetic choice can nevertheless exist in the same poet, rubbing against each other until the point of conflict: an echo of the two large historical pathways which resulted in Sound and Performance Poetry, and which did or did not involve synthesis. On one side, a more or less radical primitivism sub-divided itself into a kind of elementary research, at times constructivist, taking as its material minimal linguistic unity (the “letter”) and stretching towards a poetry that one could describe as being phonetic, or even phonologic. And with a resolutely physical tendency, sometimes spontaneous, it applied itself to making the organic substrates and pulsions of the voice and spoken word heard (breaths, sighs, moans, alterations, modulations, laughs, sobs) and rushed upon a poetry that one may call phonatory: the most important pioneers being respectively, on one hand, Kurt Schwitters, with his “elementary poetry” (“Ursonate”), and Raoul Hausmann, with his “optophonetic poems”. On the other hand, Antonin Artaud with his “glossolalies” and “xylophenies” (“Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu”(“To Be Done with the Judgement of God”)). Pierre Albert-Birot, with his “Poeme a crier et a danser” (“Poem by which to Scream and Dance”), outlined a conjunction that was left for Chopin to deepen, enlarge, and incarnate in the full sense of the term, combining the most sophisticated techniques of the electro-acoustical composition with the most audacious attempts using the means of phono-somatique experimentation. He did not hesitate at placing microphones into his bucal cavity, all the way to the esophagus. To this concern, more and more exclusively directed towards micro-events and microelements of the sub-vocal or infra-linguistic variety, others respond by a constant or growing attention to macro-components, either lexical, semantic, syntactical, or contextual, stemming from the most ordinary spoken language. The body and the voice are no longer the object, but rather, the vehicle of the poetic work. This diversifies into systematic variations, often formalist or playful, taking for its materials one or more constituents of the discourse (or of a particular type of discourse) and exhibiting them as such, in order to turn them around or leech off of them, and pragmatic approaches, that one can legitimately describe as being realist or dialogical, deliberately placing in the center of the textual scene (and of the scene itself) the “communication”, and above all, the communicative capacities of the language in both act and situation.
To the former belongs the “infinite poem” of Metail: doesn’t she try to list there, at least potentially (she is a member of the OuLiPo), all the substantives of all the lexicons, by submitting their entrance and exit to the unshakable reiteration of the unique mode of syntactico-textual enchainment indicated by the title, coupled, according to the sequences, to a more punctual constraint, concerning the signified as well as the signifier? The latter dominates in the case of Heidsieck: exploring and exploiting in this perspective the combined resources of the electro-acoustical equipment (the phono-techne) and scenic action (the performance), he plays with the effective simultaneity of an action, a live reading, and the distribution of a recorded tape, itself composed from a live reading and various-sounding objects, finally rendering somehow palpable to the listener/spectator all the semantic complexity and perceptive abundance of an authentic development of communication, both in the flesh and in language. Rather, the pioneers this time are Jules Romains, with the “unanimisme”, Henri-Martin Barzun, with his theory of the “simultaneous and dramatic song” (L’Orpheide), Albert-Birot, above all with his poems “for two voices” or “for three simultaneous voices”, from 1916-17; but it is Apollinaire who established the future basis for this, by encouraging the “simultanist” poet in 1914 “to directly record a poem onto the phonograph and to record at the same time natural murmurs or other voices, in a crowd or amidst his friends”. Very prescient: this is exactly what Heidsieck did in 1972, with “Le carrefour de la Chaussee d’Antin” (“The crossroads of the Chaussee d’Antin”)...
Translated by Alan Greene.Previous (Serge SEGAY), Next (Jerome ROTHENBERG)