Endre SZKAROSI (Hungary)
Szkarosi Endre (b. 1952) - intermedia-artist, performer, poet, critic.
Professor at the Department of Italian studies of the University of Sciences
Llorand Eotvos (Budapest). Author of a number of poetry books
and numerous sound poetry productions that were published in the collective
audio editions, magazines, catalogues and literary miscellanies. He is intensively
working in the area of experimental literature, ranging from sound and visual
poetry to poetic installations, sculptures and video-poetry. Participated in
more than sixty international festivals of contemporary art and sound poetry.
Since 1986 he has been Editor-in-Chief for the international sound poetry program
Szkarosi Hangado on the Hungarian
National radio (Budapest). For more information see
the bio-bibliography of the participant. Taken from the
© 2000 Endre Szkarosi, Budapest.
A SURVEY OF HUNGARIAN SOUND POETRY
After Symbolist Poetry and it’s assertion of the basic identity of poetry and music (see Verlaine’s famous “Art poetique”) poetic practice gets more and more elaborated and concretized into a modern idea of orality, vocality and sonority that works within the language used by poetry. With Marinetti’s dynamic declamation program (“declamazione dinamica e sinottica”) a number of musical parameters that reside in language as speech activity have been poetically functionalized: rhythm, intonation, timbre, volume, onomatopeism etc. The automatism of the semantic level of language has been eliminated by Dadaist poets emphasizing the central role of the phoneme and letter in poetry. Late avantgarde and lettrist poets such as Artaud and Isou have boldly inserted the extralinguistic parameters of vocal activity in poetry, parameters that are unseparable from speech activity as (crying, groaning, whispering, howling, and sighing, along with falsetto-voice, inspiration and exspiration noises etc.). These parameters even penetrate the phoneme itself, separating and reinserting intraphonemic particles. After the Second World War a wide range of sound poetry developed on this base. Starting in the 1950s with the appearance of new recording means (i.e. ‘magnetophone”) which open new ways of soundprocessing and from the 1960s with the great musical revolution of progressive popular music (art rock) the reciprocing and interacting confluences of poetry and music develop a new bold phase of sound poetry that connects vocal and sound experience. With such a decisive development of poetic practice in the 20th Century, poetry – within high-tech modernity – gets back to its original complexity of ritual integrity, not excluding traditional poetic activity forms, but deeply enriching the range and timber of poetic experience and expression.
Postlettrist and phonetic poetry (Mimmo Rotella, Bernard Heidsieck ) emerged from technically modulated sound poetry (Bob Cobbing , Henri Chopin ). Then, after the artistic autonomy of art rock activity developed, and technical means had become more and more sophisticated, the intermedial penetration of musical and poetic activity became regular and more deeply inspired (e.g., the work of Demetrio Stratos, Charles Amirkhanian or David Moss).
Within this basic and too briefly sketched trend and beyond the widening paradigm of the acoustic and linguistic contexts of poetry, with the expansion of orality, the 20th Century’s historical avantgarde movements open a new space, a space that allows for inclusion of action and gesturality. Both Futurist declamation and Dadaist Lautgedichte exist in a theatre-like space. And thus these movements also ways to later performance poetry.
Despite many characteristics shared with the general development of the language of poetry, the development of Hungarian sound poetry - acoustically as seen in the above new traditions - is a bit different. This is seen particularly clearly in the dichotomy of the musical versus phonic aspect of poetry, Hungarian poetic tradition is very rich in the musical sphere of linguistic and poetic forms, but phonically less touched by the special development of historical avantgarde movements. First of all, the dominating influence in the first years comes from expressionist poetry which emphasized emotional and onomatopeic dynamism within the framework of a traditionally intact language. This is characteristic for Lajos Kassak’s early poetry (“Epic in the mask of Wagner” (“Eposz Wagner maszkjaban”), 1915) and for many of his contemporaries and collaborators (Sandor Barta, Robert Reiter, Erzsi Ujvari etc.). Instead of forming a more abstract, eventually asemantic poetic language, which was the radical way of modernizing the European trends. Kassak and some other poets engaged in theatre performances as well (like Odon Palasovszky for example) and worked out a very active and intensive practice of choir recital performed by quite large groups of participants. Both refraining from transpassing the semantic confines of language and the methodic engagement for collective recital can be explained by the fact that early Hungarian avantgarde movements were closely tied to the workers’ movement and to the basic idea of collectivity and of a noble didactic role. On one hand, this idea helped to work out certain ways of collective experiences, but on the other hand it was an obstacle to getting on with radical individual innovations in this field.
After the First World War and with the peace treaties Hungary, in a very short time, lost two thirds of its historical territory and half of its population which – with its innumerable direct and indirect consequences – was a tremendous historical shock in people’s everyday life, a fact that evidently relativized the importance of the problems of artistic innovations. From our present perspective it is important to note that most of the militant avantgarde artists had to leave the country because of their more or less active participation in the leftist revolution of the year 1919, and most of them found a transitional base in Vienna. Some of them later went to Moscow, where they became Stalinists and/or died. So for decades the country was bereft of its avantgarde artists. The dominant trends of culture were engaged in very different questions than the radical modernization of poetic language.
Between and after the wars up until the 1960s, the only poet who occasionally surpassed the semantic boundary of language and at times moved poetic musicality toward its abstract phonic possibilities was one of the greatest poets of this century, Sandor Weores. It is not an accident that many of the most important Hungarian sound poets of the first generation made some sound tributes to him: Tibor Papp in his “Pagan Rhythms” and Katalin Ladik in her “Group of phonemes” or “Panyigai u”, for example.)
As this history develops, it is interesting to note that real Hungarian sound poetry began to form its practice outside Hungary. Katalin Ladik born in 1942 in Novi Sad was a Yugoslavian citizen till the end of the 1980s. Tibor Papp was a 56 refugee and he was living in Paris. Their artistic presence in Hungary became more and more significant from the middle of the 1980s. As for Hungary itself, in the post-war period and in the fifties because of historical reasons (in sum because of the harshly oppressive nature of communist rule), exhibiting avantgarde concepts or poetics was impossible, even the modest intellectual opposition clothed itself in conservative forms. Then in the 1960s there was a vital and complex neoavantgarde movement, an intensive wave of general renewal which formed the artistic thought of many artists and artists-to- be of that time. Even so, the main foci were experimental theatre (with important groups such as Kassak Szinhaz, later called “Squat” in New York, with Peter Halasz, Istvan Balint, Anna Koos, Peter Bereznay and others, or “Brobo” with Janos Szikora, Istvan Marta and Endre Szkarosi , or Laszlo Najmanyi’s group etc.); in happenings (Tamas Szentjoby, Miklos Erdely, Sandor Altorjay etc.); but chiefly in progressive popular music. These kinds of activities opened important new paths to vocal presence and to verbal expression, but a real sound poetry activity had not yet appeared.
Katalin Ladik is a poet, performer, and actress, who published several books in Hungarian and in Serbo-Croatian. She had innumerable performances in Europe, but maybe her most outstanding way of artistic expression is vocal art and sound poetry. Her international fame is due – among other things – to her exceptional vocal capacity and voice training and, of course, to her deeply original poetic inventions in vocal expression. In her sound poetry activity an atavistic richness of body language expressed sublimely in voice meets a folkloristically tinged linguistic background and a highly up-to-date modern sensibility. It is not merely that her sound poetry works attracted the attention of Henri Chopin just in 1979 in his monograph on international sound poetry (Poesie Internationale Sonore, Jean-Michel Place ed.).
Tibor Papp in the first period of his sound poetry activity concentrated mainly on verbal rhythmics and on the alternative or simultaneous adoption of French and Hungarian. He developed a large-scale cooperative with emigrant Hungarian avantgardists (in Paris, with Pal Nagy and Alpar Bujdoso, he edited for decades the most important review of Hungarian neoavantgarde: “Magyar Muhely”), and similarly with French avantgarde artists, collaborating in “Polyphonix” group, with artists such as Jean-Jacques Lebel , Charles Dreyfuss etc. Since the 1980s he has been engaged in computer poetry and worked out, beyond a number of relevant computer sound poems, even some original poetic program softwares such as “Distichon Alfa” which can generate an almost endless number of distichons. At the same time he became a theorician of that kind of poetic language.
Inside Hungary, after the first strong wave of artistic renewal, in the 1970s more Hungarian poets – usually working in other forms of poetic self-expression as well – started a real sound poetry practice, in which the inspirations and the influences of the avantgarde movement of the previous period can be considered quite decisive. One of them is yet more or less a foreigner: Istvan Kantor, for decades more well-known by his artist name Monty Cantsin, left the country in the mid-1970s and has been living mostly in Canada. He is a heavy performance artist, musician, composer, but the base of his other activities, too, is probably a profound sound poetic inspiration. In his songs, multimedia performances or other works vocal and verbal expression is decisive.
Akos Szilagyi’s sound poetry is quite original, basically inspired by the gap between the semantic and the phonic level of language. He makes a permutative oral poetry in which the consistent alteration of the sound form of the same words or phrases leads to the continuous modification of the semantic meaning. In this method the parallel development of the semantic and phonic modulations, inserted always in a very chasracteristic rhythmic composition, usually creates a deeply grotesque effect, which is, at the same time, full of existential anxieties.
In outlining a survey of Hungarian sound poetry, I must mention, even if only briefly my sound poetry, started in the late 1970s. In the first period the musical inspiration was very strong both in a verbal/vocal and in a compositional sense. I worked out for myself a sort of abstract sound poetry in which musical cues are decisive. Voice often ends up with becoming sound, and the sonor or even musical complexity of the piece is always important. It is not a case at all that I’ve been working continuously with bands (“Konnektor,” “Spiritus Noister,” or even the English group “Towering Inferno”) and that my poetry usually has a strong intermedial and/or performance character. Visuals and action – even if recently in a minimal way – become components of the whole (sound) poetic composition.
Following those poets who started their activity in the 1970s, Andras Petocz began to work with sound poetry in the 1980s, as one of the (then) young artists who were inspired by the more and more pronounced presence of Magyar Muhely in Hungary. Petocz’s poetry essentially is based on the tradition of French phonetic poetry: the strong role of repetition is combined with a poetic language constructed of phonemes, syllables and relatively few words. He has been collaborating with the outstanding Hungarian composer, Laszlo Sary.
It is in the 1980s, too, that artists and poets of other genres begin to work in the framework of sound poetry. Gabor Toth was rather known as a visual poet when he discovered for himself the language of vocality and sonority, creating a special way of verbality and gestuality in his poetry. Recently he involved in his work “noisism” as well, and makes a sort of “noise-dj-poetry.” As for noisism, one of the most original creations of the Hungarian avantgarde in the last decades, it is connected to the activity of a self-made artist: since the early 1980s Viktor Lois has been constructing mobile sculpture-instruments from old household machines, waste, refuse, and a variety of objects. These constructions are, on one hand, visually authentic sculptures, on the other hand they are moveable and sometimes playable as wind or plucking or percussion instruments, and their sound is electrically amplified. In exploring the exciting possibilities of composition with these self-built instruments he has formed various groups (the most well-known name is “Lois Ballast”) with which he appeared in several festivals and tours in Europe. In recent years he has composed real songs combining this instrumental basis with vocal contributions.
Evidently, the concept and even more the practice of sound poetry is quite large, and artists can get to this field from various directions, from different studies and different experiences. As we could see, among sound poets there are some who arrive from textual poetry, others from fine arts and so on. And it is obvious that a number of musicians have continuous contact with sound poetic activity, working in both fields (which often are not really separable). This is true of the world-famous composer Laszlo Hortobagyi , whose music has a very strong individual character, synthesizing in its language high-tech contemporary expression forms, deeply transposed ethnic instrumental and vocal traditions, and new inventions based on an extemporaneously large scale of musical experiences. It is the consistent presence of archaic and hypermodern vocality forms in his compositions that makes his work highly relevant from sound poetry’s point of view as well.
Looking on the development of Hungarian experimental culture as a whole from the mid 1970s, the strong and decisive presence of musical expression forms is quite characteristic. A number of new formations, forums, ways of expression and a great lot of artists form their thought and practice on the basis of musical experiences, using musical expression forms or inserting them somehow in their artworks. The analysis of this phenomenon could be the subject of a separate paper, now we must content ourselves with making a note on it. But it is also worth mentioning that in the 1990s this organic complexity of poetic experiences seems to disappear in specialization. In the meantime artistic experiences (musical, actional, multimedia or intermedia activities) are involving more and more verbal conceptuality. Poetic activity returns for the most part to linear forms. Interdisciplinary minded artists who work with text, language or with any sort of verbal expression, or poets who work in musical, visual or intermedial context, more and more are considering themselves simply an artist, and they don’t lay claim to be defined as poets. Is it the sign of a conceptual separation between two concepts of artistic praxis and existence: a traditional one and an experimental one? Will Verlaine’s idea of the basic identity of poetry and music be revised?
Short biographical notes:
Lajos Kassak (1887, Ersekujvar then Nove Zamky-1967, Budapest). Poet, writer, painter, editor, pioneer and head of the early Hungarian avantgarde. Beside his writer’s oeuvre, his painting is well-known all over the world. He edited several relevant, internationally recognized reviews such as “A Tett” (“The Action,” 1915-16), “Ma” (“Today,” 1916-19 in Budapest, 1920-25 Vienna), “2x2” (Vienna, 1922), “Dokumentum” (Budapest, 1926-27), “Munka” (Budapest, 1928-38).
Sandor Barta (1897-1938?). Poet, writer, editor. His first poems were published by Kassak’s “MA”. In 1925 he went to Moscow where he was executed in base on trumped-up charges. He edited the reviews “Akasztott Ember” (“Hanged Man”) and “Ek” (“Wedge”).
Erzsi Ujvari (1899-1940). Poet, younger sister of Kassak., wife of Barta. Her first poems were published in “A Tett” and in “Ma”. In 1919 she emigrated to Vienna, and in 1925 went to Moscow, where she gave up writing.
Odon Palasovszky (1899-1980). Poet, writer, stage director, actor. He led Gesammtkunstwerk type theatre works and cabarets.
Sandor Weores (1913, Szombathely-1989, Budapest). Poet. One of the most enigmatic and at the same time most versatile poet of the century. Great virtuoso of language, beyond his poetry, left an immense oeuvre of poetic translations as well.
Pal Nagy (1934, Salgotarjan). Writer, translator, typographer, visual poet. Since 1956 he has been living in Paris. Co-founder of “Magyar Muhely,” the most important review of Hungarian neoavantgarde.
Alpar Bujdoso (1935) Writer, visual poet, co-editor of “Magyar Muhely”. Since 1956 he has been living in Vienna.
Peter Halasz - theatre artist, actor and director, leader of “Kassak Szihaz” in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the mid 1970s the group moved to New York and worked as the well-known “Squat” theatre.
Tamas Szentjoby - multimedia and performance artist, creator of the first happening shown in Hungary. In the 1970s he left Hungary and worked abroad, then in the first 1990s came back to Budapest.
Miklos Erdely (1928-1986). Poet, writer, painter, filmmaker, theoretician. One of the most relevant artist and a important artists and a key reference point of Hungarian post-war avantgarde.
Janos Szikora (1950). Stage director, participant of the first neoavantgarde wave in Hungary.
Istvan Marta (1952). Composer, stage director, participant of the first neoavantgarde wave in Hungary.
Laszlo Najmanyi - theatre artist, writer and performer.
Laszlo Sary - composer, co-founder of the well-known musical workshop “Uj Zenei Studio” (“New Musical Studio”).Previous (Jerome ROTHENBERG), Next (Carla BERTOLA)