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Steve MCCAFFERY (Canada)

Steve McCaffery (b. 1947) poet, artist, critic, essay writer, publisher. Professor at the English Department of York University (Toronto). He is the author of numerous poetry books, fiction, literary criticism and experimental poetry editions. Was a member of the sound poetic ensemble The Four Horsemen - the key phenomenon in the Canadian sound poetry, that to a great extent determined the development of this genre in North America. Delivered lectures on the contemporary literature and art at different universities in Canada, USA, Great Britain, Spain and others. He is a laureate of various rewards and prizes in the sphere of literature. For more information see the bio-bibliography of the participant.Taken from the poets manuscript. 2000 Steve McCaffery, Toronto.

TWENTIETH CENTURY SOUND POETRY IN CANADA

Apart from a rich history of acoustic poetic forms among the oral societies of its First Nations populace (independent and communal chant structures, incantation, the Inuit throat poetry of the far north and Arctic) Sound Poetry in Canada is a relatively recent phenomenon. Claude Gauvreau, a founding member of the Montreal Automatiste Group, structurally modified Surrealist theories, by a radical refusal to ground the Surreal image in a pictoral base (as outlined by Pierre Reverdy). Gauvreau developed a counter theory of the rhythmic and explorational image and, utilizing such imagery, developed an automatic zaumistic poetry of desire known as explorienne. This work also bears comparison to Artaud, and Dadaist phonetic poetry, and can be seen in its most radical form in his Jappements a la Lune (Howlings at the Moon). The final poem begins: ghederassan omniomnemm wakkule orod zdhal. Gauvreaus work and theories were influential in Quebec and can be seen in some of the work of Raoul Dugay.

Anglophone Canadian sound poetry emerges in the mid-1960s in the work of bp Nichol, Bill Bissett and later David UU (David W. Harris). Strongly influenced by chant, their acoustic productions were initially attempts to vocalize their visual, typographic experimentations. At this time too, Nichol published his first investigations into electro-acoustic effects (especially feedback) on his LP album Motherlove. However, Nichols interest in technologically produced, enhanced, or manipulated sound poetry did not develop beyond this first venture. In 1970 Nichol and Steve McCaffery expanded their performance of sound simultaneities forming, with Paul Dutton and Rafael Baretto-Rivera, Canada first sound-poetry ensemble, the Toronto-based The Four Horsemen (1970-89). Their work in real time was to a large extent an exploration in spontaneous, collective communication, conceiving the poem durationally as the emergence of a shared processual communality in which the sensing of mutating bio-emotional states guided the structuration of their highly improvisatory performances. In this respect The Four Horsemen offer a limit instance of Charles Olsons and Robert Creeleys famous dictum that form is never more than an extension of content. Consciously developing (in part) from Tzaras famous dictum that thought is made in the mouth the poetics of The Four Horsemen formed around the twin teleological aims of creating a poetry of spontaneous affect predicated on a paradigm of unrepeatablity (this was the antitechnological component) and to reformulate the poem as a manifestation of unpremeditated and ephemeral collectivity. Replacing the traditional author is a complex machinic assemblage generating performances that take the form of pulsional escapes from meaning and being, their release effected by a community of agent / poets functioning as a complex interrelation of transistors. Neither indexing nor supplementing authorial stability their performances functioned (through overdeterminations of rhythm and energy) as the conduit for a loss. Falling under the primary conceptual governance of expenditure rather than orality, voice in these public acoustic occasions precipitated a maximum rupture in any signifying system.

Steve McCaffery & bp Nichol.
Discarded text for
Six Glasgow Texts, 70s

Both Paul Duttons and Steve McCafferys independent soundwork continued after the demise of The Four Horsemen. Duttons work takes the general form of either free improvised performance (his Imps rove series), or elaborately structured works investing rhythmic, phonemic and minimal semantic permutation. In all his vocal sound work a strong volitional aspect intersects with aleatoric, unpredictable drives. His work is informed by a strong musical sensibility, drawing and expanding upon blues, black gospel singing and world folksinging idioms. This proactive fusion of musical and literary forces has led to recent collaborations with instrumentalists.

The Four Horsemen
(1970-89): bp Nichol,
Steve McCaffery,
Paul Dutton,
Rafael Baretto-Rivera, 70s

McCafferys work in sound has been sporadic since the demise of The Four Horsemen. His White Pages (1990) is a procedurally generated text that lists the first three letters in the names listed at the top of all columns in the Toronto Telephone Directory. The piece was designed as an investigation into an alternative to improvisation and a venture into large-scale sono-rhythmic structures in the spirit of Schwitters pioneer Ursonate. Another sound related piece is The Baker Transformation (1996) which applies chaos theory to a sonnet of Shakespeares in order to translate it into a high-equilibrium ordering of its constituent vowels, consonants, and punctuation.

Owen Sound: Steven Smith,
David Penhale, Richard Truhlar
and Michael Dean, 70s

A second all-male sound poetry ensemble emerged in Toronto after The Four Horsemen. Calling itself Owen Sound and comprising poets Steven Smith , David Penhale, Richard Truhlar and Michael Dean they developed the intermedia aspect (earlier developed by The Horsemen) generated on the boundaries of performance art, theatre, music and sono-poetics. Richard Truhlars independent work is marked by a delicate and complex electronic engagement.

Poets peripheral to local Toronto sound practitioners in the 1970s include Fred Gaysek whose Test Patterns (1977) involves improvised voice and text with acoustic & electronic music. Penn Kemp constructs elaborate, yet playful, permutational and incremental sound structures around simple words and phrases which are frequently performed with piano accompaniment. Karl Jirgens, editor of the journal Rampike, has worked sporadically in both unmediated extreme vocalizations (e.g. Direct Flights 1981) and electro-acoustically enhanced performances.

A younger generation of Toronto based sonosophers emerged in the 1990s. Like the pioneers Bisset and Nichol, Stephen Cains interest in Sound Poetry stems from his interest in visual and concrete poetry. Frequently utilising scores based on semantic permutations, such poems as Pome for Viktor Shklovsky and Rhinoceros build subtle sound scapes from incremental clusters of letters eventually forming recognizable words. Christian Boks acoustic performances manifest as highly energetic realizations of semantic and preverbal arrangements arrived at through rigid formal constraint and Oulipian-style procedurality. Eunoia is a serial lipogrammic work which, when vocally realized, stages the contestation of sound over sense in a compound impact of intellect and viscera.


OWEN SOUND.
A score for the performance, 70s

In the collaborative duets of Mark Sutherland and Nobuo Kubota a highly sophisticated interplay of sound patterning and silence obtains, in addition to a wide tonal and energetic range. An earlier collaboration emerged in the 1970s when Stephen Scobie and Douglas Barber formed the Alberta based Re: Sounding , characterized by performed texts that utilize isolated phonetic patterning and ludic structures. The contemporary collaboration of Steve McCaffery with poet Sean OHuigin and electronic composer Anne Southam produced sophisticated text-sound compositions not designed for live performance involved speech synthesization, multi-speed recording, tape splicings and superimpsitions.

The emergence in the mid 1990s of the Vancouver based Verbomotorhead (Alex Ferguson, Kedrick James, Doni Scob, Mark Plimley, and David Stevens) extended the live performative dimension of The Four Horsemen but added electro-acoustic supplementation to their compositions.

W. Mark Sutherland.
4 Possible Sound Poems, 1999

In the 1980s emerged First Draft, a collaboration of Susan Macmaster, Colin Morton and Andrew McClure, and whose hybrid collective performances are appropriately termed word-music.

In summation: there has been comparatively little investigation into the technological treatment and manipulation of voice in anglophone Canada. The preference has been for live, acoustic performance in group assemblages; the production of an ephemeral real-time sound art of unmediated intensity. Its roots are dadaistic but as a performed practic of outlay and expenditure it can now be seen to have a strong affiliation with the theory of general economy, that economy of inelucatable loss, theorized by Georges Bataille.

In French-speaking Quebec the most important and lively location is Quebec City. Centred on the two artist-run centres LeLieu and Obscure several poly-artists have developed text-sound compositions of rich and varied complexity. The most prominent practitioners are Alain-Martin Richard, Pierre-Andre Arcand , Jean-Yves Frechette, and Richard Martel who perform solo and in collaboration. Their performances are syncretic events, combining performance art, electro-acoustic manipulation of human sound, phonemes and words, with a frequently intense and energetic action poetry. Perhaps the most sophisticated text-sound composer is Pierre-Andre Arcand whose early work in audio-poetry were conscious attempts to escape the double restrictions imposed by linearity and circularity, and involved the use of interactive tape loop accumulation systems in live performance. The visceral corporeality of human sound, however, is not always lost. Arcand has developed many physiosonic techniques (such as the reversal of air flow during emittance that produce powerful throat, buccal, and thoracic resonances. More recently he has invented a highly individual method of performing and recording the sound of writing through the use of the microphone as instrument. His Le livre sonore utilizes a metal box in the shape of a book, filled with fragmented words. The microphone is handled like a pen on the cover of the box-book to produce sounds which are amplified and technologically altered in performance. It is in Le livre sonore that the relation of writing to sound reaches its most extreme philosophical confrontation.

Pierre-Andre Arcand.
Poem-score, 1997

The anglophone tradition of sound poetry in Quebec is much younger and less inspired by a surrealist-dadaist inheritence than their francophone counterparts. Drawing their name from a classic of Zen literature by the Tang Dynasty poet Han-shan, Cold Mountain Review was formed in late 1974 by Montreal poets Stephen Morrisey and Pat Walsh, a Zen-inspired duo influenced by the chance productions of John Cage. Although their poems were still verbally based the emphasis on cumulative aleatoricity and complex simultaneity resulted in work of a highly rich and volatile texture. Beyond Cold Mountain review anglophone sound poetry has a diversified profile in Montreal. Characteristic is the absence of any tangible, theoretical movement and the consequent development of a pragmatic, syncretic sound poetics that takes its place alongside more conventional notions of the verbal, semantic poem: Ken Norris, Endre Farkas, Tom Konyves, Claudia Lapp, and Richard Sommer consistently include text-sound compositions as an incremental aspect within their larger performances. Both Lapp and Sommer have experimented widely with chant forms and repetitive structures, while for Konyves, sound is frequently incorporated into larger performance events and video poetry.

Brian Nash. H-Wall,
video installation, 1994

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