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Christian SCHOLZ (Germany)

Christian Scholz (b. 1949) – critic, essay writer, publisher. Author of numerous articles on the issues of theory and history of sound poetry, thematic programs on the radio, publications in magazines, catalogues and anthologies. In 1989 the publishing house “Gertraud Scholz Verlag” (Obermichelbach) published his critical and documentary three-volume research Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Typologie der Lautpoesie (Investigations of the history and typology of sound poetry) – a fundamental piece dedicated to the theory and history of sound poetry. In 1988 Ch. Scholz did his doctorate dissertation based on this work. Edited and published a number of international anthologies of sound poetry, including such as: Lautpoesie. Eine Anthologie (LP und Textheft, Obermichelbach: Gertraud Scholz Verlag, 1987), BOBEOBI. Lautpoesie. Eine Anthologie. Folge 2. (CD, Obermichelbach: Gertraud Scholz Verlag, 1994), SOUND POETRY. AN ANTHOLOGY (CD, Ed. by Ph. Menezes, H. Polkin­horn, E. Minarelli, Ch. Scholz, Sao Paulo: Fapesp/LLS – PUC/SP, 1998). He has produced numerous books of experimental poetry and compact discs of contemporary authors that were published by Gertraud Scholz Verlag. The material has been especially prepared by the author for the present edition.
© 1999 Christian Scholz, Obermichelbach.


1. Definition

Sound poetry (Lautpoesie) is in my definition a poetic art which avoids using the word as a mere vehicle of sense or meaning and tries to compose phonetic poems or sound texts (Lautgedichte, Lauttexte) in a methodical autonomy in accordance with modes of expressing subjective intentions, which require an acoustical realization from the side of the poet.

With good reason sound poets use the term “composition” to characterize their texts indicating the close connection between speech and music. Phonetic poems can develop their special effect only by the musical gesture of expression of the voice – namely loudness (level), sound, tone colour, tone pitch, speed of speech. They are not a hybrid of speech and music, they are both speech and music or speech music (Sprachmusik).

2. The initial stage of sound poetry

Phonetic poems or sound texts are considered as a specific phenomenon of the 20th century; their origin is the Italian and the Russian futurism and later the dadaism between 1910 and 1917. But the first phonetic poems were written by Paul Scheerbart and Christian Morgenstern and published in 1897 respectively in 1905 for the first time.

Scheerbart’s phonetic poem “Kikakoku” is included in the novel “I love you!” (“Ich liebe Dich!”), in which the I-narrator reads (aloud) the following interesting story:



Wiso kollipanda opolosa.

Ipasatta ih fuo.

Kikakoku proklinthe peteh.

Nikifili mopalexio intipaschi benakaffro – propsa pi!

propsa pi!

Jasollu nosaressa flipsei.

Aukarotto passakrussar Kikakoku.

Nupsa pusch?

Kikakoku buluru?

Futupukke – propsa pi!

Jasollu ....... (Scheerbart 1897, p. 249)

The informality of the cheerful play on words of an artificial speech is also characteristic of Christian Morgenstern’s phonetic poem “Great Lalula” (“Das gro?e Lalula”), the aesthetic attractiveness of which is in the tension between formal stringency and an almost complete absence of any meaning.


Kroklokwafzi? Semememi!

Seiokrontro – prafriplo:

Bifzi, bafzi; hulalemi;

quasti basti bo ...

Lalu lalu lalu lalu la!

Hontraruru miromente

zasku zes ru ru?

Entepente, leiolente

klekwapufzi lu?

Lalu lalu lalu lalu la!

Simarar kos malzipempu

silzuzankunkrei (;)!

Marjomar dos: Quempu Lempu

Siri Suri Sei [ ]!

Lalu lalu lalu lalu la! (Morgenstern 1905, p. 9)

Morgensterns phonetic poem shows still the characteristic features of a traditional stanza poem, but by creating a word material of its own it is beyond the scope of the natural speech. The major part of the sequence of sounds shows only little affinity with the German language, but its similarity with sound sequences of nursery rhymes and things like that. So the “Great Lalula” evokes cheerfulness and perhaps an amused smiling.

Morgenstern’s and Scheerbart’s phonetic poems refer to texts of the 17th, 18th and 19th century, which show structural similarities with phonetic poems: children’s language, counting rhymes, spoonerism, tongue twisters, spells, pseudo? and artificial languages, glossolalia, fluency exercises, sound symbolism, onomatopeia, imitation of animals’ voices.

The fascination which magic spells, onomatopeia and “language of birds” have on poets, can be noticed in the texts of many sound poets who took up the tradition of this popular poetry. So Raoul Hausmann, Kurt Schwitters and others wrote phonetic poems, containing imitation of animals’ voices.

3. Sound poetry during the period of dadaism

The literary innovations, phonetic poems, simultaneous poems and bruitist poems and sound con­certs were performed during the period of dadaism in Zurich and Berlin (in 1916 to 1923). Dada was the literary “avantgarde” of that time. Dada integrated the latest trends in the whole of Europe. In the evening of the 23rd of June in 1916 Hugo Ball, one of the founders of Dada Zurich, read a few program notes in the Cabaret Voltaire: “In these phonetic poems we totally renounce the language that journalism has abused and corrupted. We must return to the innermost alchemy of the word, we must even give up the word too, to keep for poetry its last and holiest refuge. We must give up writing secondhand: that is, accepting words <...> that are not newly invented for our own use.” (Ball 1974, p. 71)

In such programatic statements Ball criticizes the present state of the use of speech; criticism of speech and the situation of the artist are motivating him to give up the every?day standard speech in favour of a poetic diction of his own. It is the use of the speech that – according to Ball gives the artist the chance to realize the highest degree of freedom by proving his god?like creativity, by inventing new sequences of sounds.

Ball sees the cause for this effort in the “complete skepticism” against the symptoms of time, that is to say the destruction of all values through the First World War. This “complete skepticism” makes the “complete freedom” possible for the artist (s. Ball 1974, p. 102), who can fall back on the unconscious, the dreamlike and the ecstatic.

Apart from Ball’s criticism of time and speech also the “collective psychosis of creativity“ of the Zurich dadaists contributed to Ball’s giving up the normal order of speech in favour of “autonomy” of the sounds in a phase of an interior creative mania. The members of the Cabaret Voltaire tried to vie with one another in intensifying the chief stress and their requests for the planning of the variete?program, which apart from phonetic poems contained performances of simultaneous poems, so called “Negro rhythms” and “bruitist concerts”. The latter was characterized by specific performance situations: light effects – that is to say limitations of Ball’s appearances by darkness before and after the scene. The platform or stage, on which Ball is acting and performing, separates the audience from the stage and so limits his appearances locally. The costume consisting of a cylindrical shaman hat gives the acting poet according to his own statement the appearance of a priest, of a “magic bishop” (Ball 1974, p. 107). Form and colour of the “cubistic” costumes, however, point to the area of technology, for example to a robot. The gestures of the performing artist, moving between three music-stands in the centre and on the left and right side of stage, are – because of his stiff costume – reduced to the wing-like beating of his elbows, which according to Karl Riha would remind us of the “language of birds”. Ball’s appearance and exit are executed by his staff who carry him up and down the stage during the darkness.

On June, 23rd in 1916 Ball among others performed his phonetic poem “gadji beri bimba”:


gadji beri bimba glandridi laula lonni cadori

gadjama gramma berida bimbala glandri galassassa laulitalomini

gadji beri bin blassa glassala laula lonni cadorsu sassala bim

gadjama tuffm i zimzalla binban gligla wowolimai bin beri ban

o katalominai rhinozerossola hopsamen laulitalomini hoooo

gadjama rhinozerossolola hopsamen

bluku terullala blaulala loooo

zimzim urullala zimzim urullala zimzim zanzibar zimzalla zam

elifantolim brussala bulomen brussala bulomen tromtata

velo da bang bang affalo purzamai affalo purzamai lengado tor

gadjama bimbalo glandridi glassala zingtata pimpalo ogrogoooo

viola laxato viola zimbrabim viola uli paluji malooo

tuffm im zimbrabim negramai bumbalo negramai bumbalo tuffm i zim

gadjama bimbala oo beri gadjama gaga di gadjama affalo pinx

gaga di bumbalo bumbalo gadjamen

gaga di bling blong

gaga blung (Ball 1962, p. 27)

Here Ball makes use of alliteration in connection with vowel variations and other structural techniques of combinations of children’s language. Obviously Ball makes use of all possible forms of linguistical creativity, thus exposing the “interior alchemy of words” (Ball) to form – mainly in the German language – partly unfamiliar sequences of sounds according to the principle of repetition and variation.

Although there is no title which might enable the recipient to develop a feeling of imagination or association the area of the exotic is addressed by means of sound sequences producing associations like “elifantolim”, onomatopoeic effects like “tromtata” and strange sound sequences like “laxato”. (For the mentioned effects compare stanzas 2 and 3.) The sound material alludes to well-known words and develops an immanent humour. Besides fundamental forms of the structure of speech are adopted. But Balls attempt, to produce completely new sound combinations and a new lingual and musical structure with the help of the principle of repetition and variation, turns out to be a failure. The speech character becomes predominant, the intended sound character and rhythm is only hinted at.

The second dadaist in my historical survey is Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters’s “Ursonate” undoubtedly ranks among the best known sound poems of the German literary history. Owing to the publication of the complete version read by the author himself the popularity even increased in the last six years.

Of considerable importance in a consideration of Schwitters’s development as a sound poet is his transformation of the conception of poetic material which can be seen against the background of his confrontation with the word art theory of “Sturm”. During 1919 he claimed that “all material perceived by the eye” (Schwitters 1981, p. 37) was suitable for his art, and in October of the same year he still maintained that the word was the basic material of poetic utterance: “The stuff of poetry is all that experience which stimulates the mind and feeling.” (Schwitters 1981, p. 42) In the course of time, Schwitters expanded this concept of material in which he applied the Merz Principle to poetic expression, a principle originally intended to apply to painting. “Language ‘ready-mades’ and ‘objets trouves’” were embodied in Schwitters’s programmatic texts and poems. At the end of 1919 he writes: “Merz poetry is abstract. Analogous to Merz painting, it uses as its given components whole sentences from newspapers, posters, catalogues, conversations and so on, with or without modification.” (Schwitters 1981, p. 38) These components make the principle of Merz poetry clear. Schwitters’s justification of his method, that of extracting material from its everyday context and putting it at the disposal of artistic creation is to be indebted to the sound poet Herbert Behrens?Hangeler and to be found in the programmatic text “i / A Manifesto” of May, 1922.

A radical change in Schwitters’s poetic thinking clearly crystallizes out in the years after 1921. The movement away from resolving poetic utterance into its elements first taken up by the “word?art” theory of “Sturm” is given further impetus by Schwitters in 1924, in his manifesto, “Consistent Poetry” (“Die konsequente Dichtung”) in which he re?defines the concept of material and in which he reflects upon the ways poetry might be apprehended: Schwitters says: “Consistent poetry is built up from letters. Letters have no conceptual relationship. Neither have they in fact a sound: they only possess sound potential which can be evaluated when taken up by the reader. Consistent poetry rates letters and letter groups against each other.” (Schwitters 1981, p. 190)

Schwitters disassociated himself from the word-art theory of “Sturm” in declaring that it is the letter and not the word which is the material of poetry. Citing the alphabet as an example, he emphasized the need in performance of forcibly removing letters or groups of letters from their original relational context and thus producing a work of art. In just what way this programme can be executed is demonstrated in the ‘Ursonate’.

It was not until 1932 that Schwitters published his ‘Ursonate’ in its completed form. It appeared in a typographic edition supplied by Jan Tschichold under the title ‘Ursonate’ as booklet No. 24 in his magazine “Merz”. The title , “Sonata”, however, was accorded to an earlier phonetic poem in 1923, which he later incorporated in modified form into the fourth section of his ‘Ursonate’.

Even in 1921, Schwitters had hit upon the dominant theme of his sonata on hearing Raoul Hausmann’s rendering of his “Poster Poem” “fmsbw” (1918) in Prague which he transformed into his own poem “bfbwfms” (1921):


















Qui – E (Schwitters 1981, p. 435)

Kurt Schwitters.
Ursonate (fragment), 1922

In the ten years between 1923 and 1932, several excerpts from the ‘Ursonate’ appeared. The whole first part of the ‘Ursonate’ with commentary which was probably complete appeared under the title “My Sonata in Primordial Sound” in the No. 11th edition of the Dutch magazine “i 10”.

In contradistinction to the earlier poem entitled “My Sonata in Primordial Sound” of 1927 Schwitters’s revised title, ‘Ursonate’, points to the possibility that he could have had the original form of the musical sonata in mind. This assumption would seem to be confirmed by the absence of the culminative achievements characterizing the classical sonata and by the reduction of the sonata form to its barest necessities. On the other hand, however, Schwitters uses the terminology of the classical sonata in his explanatory notes on the ‘Ursonate’, words such as ‘scherzo’, ‘cadence’, ‘rondo’ etc., and consequently by using such formal nomenclature normally reserved to describe the complicated, four-movement sonata form he is very far removed from what might be called an original or primordial form.

The idea of a “total work of art” (Gesamtkunstwerk) in the sense of a “coalescence of art forms” is something Schwitters wanted to experiment with along the boundaries of literature and music. According to Bernd Scheffer and others, Schwitters’s ‘Ursonate’ represents an abortive attempt to give phonetic poetry a musical form since Schwitters with his monophonic song, his abandonments of diverse voice and change of key comes nowhere near the sonata proper with its rules of style. Up to now, most attempts of phonetic poetry to overstep the boundaries of music have, according to Helmut Hei?enbuttel and others, fallen foul of the fact that the poetry of language, in this case German, and especially in the case of the spoken word, remains a structural and therefore constitutive unit. The manner of articulation of the given language usage (here, German) cannot be wholly eliminated.

Criticism is also directed against Schwitters’s unsatisfactory solution of the structuring of a longish poem of this sort. Scheffer feels that while he may well have been successful in maintaining the formal construction of the sonata, he has not, on the other hand, succeeded in informing his work with those necessary variations of form and tone appropriate to the elaboration and working out of motives and themes.

In contrast to the opinions held by Scheffer and Hei?enbuttel, Manfred Peters considers the ‘Ursonate’ not as a failure to amalgamate literature and music, but regards the contradiction resulting from the antiquated form of the sonata and the emancipated speech sounds as “an additional dialectic which determines the course of the sonata as a search for a synthesis of obsolete form and liberated material”. (Peters 1977, p. 220)

In performing the ‘Ursonate’ Schwitters dispenses with instruments, noises and emotionally-charged, instinctive expressions such as moans, cries or screams. Only those sounds are exhibited which characterize the given language, in this case, German. Schwitters in his commentary points out that “the letters (be) articulated as pronounced in German” (Schwitters 1973, p. 313) since, as he writes later, “the German language has simpler and more exact speech sounds than, for example, the English” (Schwitters 1973, p. 313). The basis for both production and articulation of the sound combinations remains German. In Schwitters’s rendering, therefore, the articulation of the sounds is quite clearly recognisable, and there is no attempt to repress it – a fact which works against the success of the piece as formally similar to 19th-century music.

While Werner Schmalenbach maintains that Schwitters is bold in the consistent use of pure phonetic material, many writers criticise Schwitters’s mode of articulation and word?orientation. Helmut Hei?enbuttel objects to Schwitters’s phonemes, asserting that they border upon something resembling the calls of birds .

Kurt Schwitters’s reading of the ‘Ursonate’ does not particularly emphasize the sound contrasts, or complex sound juxtapositions. Instead, he sticks quite firmly to the sonata form in repeating, with varied styles of delivery, what come to be, for the listener, familiar themes. Hei?enbuttel suggests that the “Ursonate” is a parody of music and language: “In filling up the sonata phonetically, Schwitters pokes fun at it.” (Hei?enbuttel 1983, p. 13) But it is probably more likely that the “Ursonate” manifests, like Schwitters’s visual work, a love for and fascination with the materials themselves. The “Ursonate” explores the effect of sounds taken out of their usual, everyday functional context and set in traditional musical form.

The essential influence on the sound poetry after 1945 is – in my view – due to Raoul Hausmanns work who – in practice and in theory – freed the sound poem from elements of onomatopoeic poetry and from the imitation of musical forms. Both the literary professor Jorg Drews and the sound poet Bob Cobbing accentuate the importance of Hausmann as “father of sound poetry”.

Raoul Hausmann. OFFEAH.
Poster Poem, 1918

Hausmann’s early sound poems differ from Hugo Ball’s sound poems like this: the sequences of letters in the optophonetic poems do not present unknown words, but sounds – and / or phonemes without a semantical function. In accordance to his theories and his creative productions of sound poetry Hausmann was the first to go back to pre-lingual material and to perform a complete autonomy of the sound by isolating the sound from all morphological and syntactical categories, from all familiar contexts of communication.

Raoul Hausmann: “OFFEAH” (1918) (see appendix)

While in his “Poster Poems” (“Buchstabenplakaten”) “OFFEAH” and “fmsbw” both made in 1918 he did not yet reach the visual qualities of the “tavole parolibere” of the futurists and the chance prevailed as the principle of his production, he only very rarely left his principle to the chance in his optophonetic poems.

Raoul Hausmann: “kp’erioum” (1918/19) (see appendix)

In his sound poem “kp’erioum” (made in 1918 or 1919) he continues to use the composing tendencies of the first two “Poster Poems” (“Plakatgedichte”) and he extends and transforms this poem into an optophonetic poem, which is characterized by deliberate visualization of the letters on the surface of the sheet of paper and the conveying and even surpassing their tonal valency.

In his performance Hausmann develops articulating gestures which can be regarded as non-verbal sounds, obsolete expression of manners of speaking, but they can also be regarded as sound associations which might be seen as reminiscences of foreign languages or onomatopoetica. So Hausmann’s performance varies between intelligibility and semantic abstinence as the larinx and the vocal chords do not offer any total availability in the act of producing abstract sound valences. Hausmann only partly frees himself from the organ of articulation used in the German language.

Nicolas Einhorn pointed out that the activity of the audience in this process is not restricted to passive receiving of the sound poems, but that the repeating of the articulating gestures produce the raison d’etre for the sound poems.

Who ever enters this world of sounds listening and imitating, says Einhorn, will experience and enjoy the freedom detached from the semantics connected with delight, fun and release. In his theoretical publications about sound poetry Hausmann sees the aims of Dada “to produce anti-art which tends to destroy the antiquated bourgeois culture.” (Hausmann 1982, p. 112) The sound poem as formed by Hausmann fights against the vulgar utilitarian state of the speech and against the bourgeois devaluation of terms which lost their meaning in the state of chaos of World War I.

In 1921 Hausmann proclaimed the “complete freedom” of the individual that disposes of oral taboos which have been built up by languages in the process of learning the language and which prevent the surpassing of the artificial rules of the daily use of the speech. Hausmann wants to regain the affluence of the speech of sounds and the expressiveness and he wants to find new modes of expressions which – with the help of technical development – would improve the importance of the spoken poetic speech. Moreover he thinks that his own creating of sound poems implies physical and psychological processes, evokes mind-expansions of the participant.

These intentions are taken up by Carlfriedrich Claus at the beginning in independence of Hausmann’s ideas. Later he took issue with Hausmann’s ideas developing and exeeding them and comparing them with another concept of sound poetry with the aim to perform musical qualities of the speech.

Raoul Hausmann. kp’erioum.
Optophonetical poem, 1918-19

4. “Sprachmusiksprachen” of the Post-War time

The introduced phonetic poems by Hugo Ball, Kurt Schwitters, and Raoul Hausmann show the main possibilities of sound poetry and they form the model for the sound poets after 1945.

On one hand the tape recorders of the fifties allowed to cut up sounds of the speech into micro-particles, to combine them again in multi-layers and integrate them into musical structures. On the other hand poets endeaver to explore the form of speech and the “alchemy of words” (Ball), to demonstrate the flexibility of the letters (and the words). There are frontier crossings to music, radio play and radio art; the generic terms “phonetic poem” or phonetic text cannot be maintained exactly.

After 1945 the authors of the Viennese group established connections to the tradition of the modernity. Gerhard Ruhm , Konrad Bayer, Oswald Wiener, Hans Carl Artmann and other young poets and artists read everything they could find about expressionism, dadaism, surrealism and constructivism. August Stramm, Kurt Schwitters, Otto Nebel, and Raoul Hausmann represented for them the “true tradition” of the literary modernity, whose methods they wanted to adopt and to develop. “Where should it go on, if not accordingly at the final point?” wondered the members of the Viennese group in 1952.

To bring up poetry to the level of consciousness of painting and music means for Gerhard Ruhm, to expand the idea of material and the possibilities of poetry. Material of poetry means for Gerhard Ruhm not only the single word and the surface of the paper, but mainly the individual speech sound: “the spoken word is a product of sounds (vowels) and noise (consonants) and beyond it means a term, which is reduced in the sound compositions.” (Ruhm 1984, p. 11)

Musical parameters like tempo, tone colour, tone pitch and loudness level are integrated in the creation of the sound texts (phonetic texts). In his “phonetic poems” (phonetischen Gedichten) Ruhm lays stress on the emotional, expressive content of the speech sounds. A way of speaking that supports the emotional content of a combination of sounds, Ruhm calls “sound gestures” (“Lautgestik”). It attributes a kind of communication character to such a way of speaking, because it can inform us about the psychic mood (disposition) and the situation of the speaker. The aesthetic value of the “expressions” (“expressionen”) of the year 1952/53 is based on the play “between construction, that means deliberate artistic work, and the unconscious impulse of the speech gestures.” (Ruhm 1988, p. 13)












krchlts tst!



uu –








lkt t








hhhh  (Ruhm 1988, p. 14-15)

Ruhm’s momentarily flaring up “expressions” show such a brevity in their duration that associations of content cannot come into being. Ruhms aim is to perform speech material and not creating an emotional atmosphere.

His phonetic poem “prayer” (1954) is based on very simple organizing principles, which are explained by Ruhm as follows: “the vowels a, a, u, e, e, o, i – repeated again and again in the same order – are played around by several consonants until all possible combinations of every consonant with every vowel have taken place”. (Ruhm 1970, p. 48)


a  a  u

e  e  o  i

a  da  hu

e  de  bo  i

da  ha  u

de  e  do  bi

ba  ba  u

be  be  o  ni

na  a  bu

me  he  so  mi

ma  ma  su

e  ne  so  ji

sa  sa  ju

je  e  ho  di

ga  ja  gu

e  ge  do  i

a  na  nu

ne  he  go  gi

wa  da  du

we  we  o  wi

sa  ha  wu

e  se  mo  hi

a  sa  hu

me  me  wo  i

na  na  mu

se  de  no  si

a  na  u

e  de  jo  i

a  a  nu

e  de  o  i

a  a  u

e  e  o  i  (Ruehm 1988, p. 37-38)

Apart from the structural information Ruhm – by his way of performing the poem – also attributes to his “prayer” (“gebet”) an inner, ethical content. In the tender, swaying way in which it is performed, the poem shows something of a litany or a meditation. Gerhard Ruhm applies a new and more pronounced accentuation in his “Vienneses phonetic poems” (“Wiener Lautgedichte”), which are to suggest “sound and modulation of the Viennese dialect and which transport something of the partly grumbling and dragging, partly eruptive language of the Viennese” (Ruhm 1988, p. 42).

In his “addressing Austria” (“rede an Osterreich”) – created between 1955 and 1958 – Ruhm exclusively makes use of the typical sound combinations of the Viennese dialect in order to imitate the somewhat disordered way of speaking of the Show-Viennese, who stands between “the servile, crawling on all four legs before others and a vulgar aggressiveness” (Ruhm 1988, p. 42).

nedn nedn, a nedn nedn, un nedn nedn, aun nedn, un un daggn daggn, o daggn daggn, ein daggn daggn, un nedn, un un nedn daggn, nedn duggn, nedn daggn duggn; o deggn deggn, aun daggn daggn, un nedn, un nedn daggn duggn. –

schdade muazzn, schda. – muade schdazzn, muade schdazzn mau. maude schdaudn, schdaude mazz!

iddn a ohe ual, neddn de diddn schla, u(d)ll he mbbm ambbm ual! i deddn uhe, o schle Ila nddn a, u schld o he dn e hee!!

gschbaugg de schdauggn, muald da see. gschwegld hozzn schdaunn. hezzn bagl de schduaggn, gschbisd da gragl, schbiaddi doo!

uasch eissd ba gloggn! babe eiggs schdrunggn! schleaggn bra unzn, anzn bre schlunggn! gloggn be eissn, ebm na bebm ne uuooasch!! – gloggn gloggn...

ins ledl laschl za de schlummbm; zwaddschgan ledl buag da banze zu da ledl, ogda laschl firefire naa!! owa gschbaz de zwagl ledl, buag da laschl!

bedn schdeddn schdoddn, bodn, be schdoddn, esch oddbe eddn, oschn schoddn be, oddn oschn be, budn budn, be budn eschn, budn deddn, uddn deddn be, duddn be, schuddn be! schdeddn obbde bode beddn. – gschleu moggn, desdel man. bauschn aung. graze glade bosd! schoggn kan...

zache noggdn di schlame zweidl oan! krugl schauma dadl heggd, zwale mischn maschn schleaggd di mua! flaunz schmiaggd da zweiga. owan ochn...

lus, las, losi – schus. scheng, schang, schogn. schogn san, – san seli, – seli san schogn, – schogn scheng: – schus, Ios, lasi.

zwian zwadl lagg, lagg, ose ose, osn adl, osn adl, agg, zwian zwadl, an idl idl, zwagg, esn zwagg, esn zwagg odl!

gschbiz di laggn, lag di osn, ossn schwangd di schweu! raglhunddn baddn badn, logde lodn, oale senggde bibm bibbm beu!!! (Ruhm 1988, p. 42-43)

In later radio-texts Ruhm also makes use of the device to alienate voices by means of manipulating tape recorders. In the seventies Ruhm had the chance to adapt some texts of the fifties to the radio, for instance the “Hymn to Lesbians” (“hymne an lesbierinnen”).

After World War II various German authors have tried to work off the aesthetic ideas of modern art and music since the turn of the century. For Franz Mon the impetus to deal with sound poetry began with his idea that after the end of Nazism the German language was a damaged, spoilt language, which contained everything that was predominant concerning lies and sadism during the time of Nazism. In order to give the German language again a chance to grow and to rejuvenate again, it must – according to Mon – be reflected in poetry, that is to say the language had to become material again. Material is according to Mon: “all levels forming the speech from the phonetic material to the articulatory, verbal, syntactical and semantical structure.” (Mon 1968, p. 433)

The function of poetry is according to Franz Mon to make speech to come into view as speech, that is to say to stop the communicative function of the speech. In the phonetic destruction lies the chance to renew the creative work of the poet. Important for Mon is the origin of speech: the process of articulation, the various parameters, which form our speech: “Qualities of the sound of speech: tone colour, tone pitch together with the melodious gliding alone of the voice volume of sound with dynamic accentuation and the order of the flow of the speech.” (Mon 1970, p. 102)

Mon wants to make the listener realize the procedures of micro-articulation. His texts are not based on single sounds, vowels or consonants, but on the so called sound dyades. These are the smallest phonetic units which at the same time are the simplest form of a syllable. Mon is writing: “The sounds form a gliding articulation chain between the extreme poles of the vowel sound and sharp consonant explosives. The respiration and the articulation, the coarticulation of adjoining sounds, cause assimilations, which according to the neighbouring sounds show a different appearence. This process influences “modifications, shifting reflection, bursting of the material of articulation” and reveals traces of meaning, an “aura” of meaning.” (Mon 1970, p. 103)

Franz Mon’s “Articulations” (“Artikulationen”) were partly published by Neske in 1959 for the first time and in the anthology “movens” in 1960. According to Mon it is the reader’s task to set going the unheard-of (unprecedented) complexity of the given visual or acoustic pattern of articulation, that is to say training speaking beyond the normal cours of the speech. An sonorus/theor/illustration of these theoretical statement could be found in his sound text “sinks” (1959):

Franz Mon: sinks (1959) (see appendix)

The aesthetic attraction of these “Articulations” is the floating emotion between the physilogical nature of speech and meaning. Of importance are also the reflecting effects of the speech, which are initiated with the listener in the act of listening. How does speech take place? The listener is expected to stay even in a state of wondering.

Franz Mon is legitimating his radical form of sound poetry by refusing to make use of linear application of the speech. This closing one’s mind against the functioning of literature is also a moment of engagement against the existing, against the automating perception. The “shock of the incomprehensible” is to irritate the automating course of life. Mon is writing: “speech, which turns back to poetry, is an attempt to catch the most obvious, that was forgotten in the complicated and exhausting process of speech. Poetry is not exhausted in it, but it is searching for it, it needs the primitive material experience.” (Mon 1959, p. 31-32)

Since 1968 Franz Mon – as an author of radio plays – has repeatedly integrated articulating sequences into longer radio texts, which he mainly realized for the Studio of Acoustic Art of the West German Radio, Cologne.

Franz Mon. Sinks, 1959

While Mon’s work of sound poetry is rather small because of the diversity of his artistic endeavour the production of sound poems takes up an important part in Carlfriedrich Claus’s work. In the history of German sound poetry he undoubtedly holds the first rank, being almost unrivalled in his radical exclusiveness: In Claus’s creations sounds of speech no longer appear in connection of the communicative language of the speech which intends to procure verbal information, but it appears in the context of autonomous sound events (Lautgeschehens) or sound processes that are meant to arouse the listener’s sensibility for plasticity and the colour of speech.

To get a better understanding of Claus’s work of sound poetry – he was born in 1930, – it is helpful to consider Claus’s earlier literary experiments and to have a closer look at the beginning of the production in the childhood of the artist during the “Third Reich”.

By 1944 Carlfriedrich Claus was engaged in the most different areas – among other things – in occult sciences, parapsychology connected with ethnology. He was interested in the possibilities of certain religions and mythologies how he could bring about – with the help of sounds and sound impulses – certain mind-expansions respectively psychical and physical changes which was necessary to avoid the pressure of the totalitarian society. In this connection Claus mentions the religious exercises – that is the unarticulated yells and shrieks of the shamanism in Sibiria and Mongolia, the non-verbal murmur formulas of the lamas in Tibet and the korroborri – ecstatic singing and dancing in mass meetings during death ceremonies still in use with the Australians. These procedures connected with dance and senseless crying lead to ecstatic dimensions or they end in silence. At the same time physilogical processes are in the body changing the blood circulation in the brain for example.

Because of his experiences in his childhood the work of art is for Claus a starting point for an experiment on one’s own body. The sound processes require the listener’s own initiative if he wants to take such sound processes as an impulse for speech exercises for himself by duplicating the performed articulation processes intensively and in full concentration. These procedures can extend the sphere of experience in an unimaginable way. So for instance contacts to the world around us and to the open nature can be intensified with the help of articulating in the open country. Or the participant himself has a chance to test psychological experiences for instance by articulating the alveolar explosive sound “t” aloud while he is awakening and still lying in bed.

As a participant the listener has a chance of duplicating and perceiving the articulation and its initial stage renewably. All that is according to Claus the foundation of his later experimental attempts concerning sound poetry.

The recordings of a sound text and speech exercises – first recorded in 1959 – are based on the artist’s essential ideas and experiences which are also important for Claus’s late production of sound poetry: Claus frees himself from putting down his sound poems in writing and he records his articulation process in a multiple-track way with the help of the trick button of a tape?recorder.

These sound texts and speech exercises are based on the idea of a dialectical relation of the vehicles of information. Claus says: “Writing is not only a vehicle of information. Writing itself – the vehicle itself – transmits signals, structural information. At the same time I understood: The same is true for the spoken language. The sounds, too, transmit messages of their own under and above the semantical threshold.” (Claus 1976, p. 23-24) The sound texts respectively the speech texts of 1959 and the sound processes of later years – especially the “Five single-track” ones of 1982 – reflect this discovery in a very great diversity.

In his “Five single-track sound processes” (“Funf einschichtige Lautprozesse“, 1982) Claus succeeds in reaching the fundamental spheres of speech production and discovers everything anew: the world of that which has to be articulated – so to speak of the view of a child the phase of stammering and mumbling.

By intensifying the material signals of single sounds which are used in the daily act of speaking – without being noticed into exact processes of articulation, he works out those “unconscious communicative processes” which are present subliminal in conversation and which shock and dismay the receiver. The existence of emotional magnetic fields of sympathy and antipathy become clear; shocking processes unknown to the speaker – are laid open in the listener. The activating of nonverbal processes in the sound processes is exposing the unknown; the speech organs thus become organs of perception and hearing. Another aspect which is normally overlooked can be stated in the sound processes: that is the quasimusical aspect which is already present in the natural speech, but by destroying the natural speech the disclosure of the quasi-musical structures is even increased.

The speech sounds have been taken out of their role as a vehicle for semantic (grammatical, stylistic) information and they are now integrated into new acoustical no?longer respectively not-yet structures of speech or systems of speech into “music”. Ernst Bloch’s “music-philosophy” which Claus got to know in Leipzig in the fifties had a strong influence on him.

Claus’s sound poetic works of the years 1993 and 1996 called “Lautaggregat” (something like “Sound Set”) – produced for the Studio of Acoustic Art at the West German Radio Cologne – and “Basale Sprechoperationsraume” (something like “Basic Speech Operation Rooms”) – produced for the Bavarian Broadcasting Service Munich – fulfill the musical claim to sound poetry. These speech operations have been realized in dummy head stereophony – to expand the listening rooms – and in multi-layer-technique – to produce the impression that the listener can hear several recordings at the same time.

While Gerhard Ruhm, Franz Mon, and Carlfriedrich Claus push ahead the dissociation of the word and the phonetic material, Oskar Pastior and Ernst Jandl free themselves from the semantics of the word without gaining ground in the innermost parts of the phonetic material.

Oskar Pastior is among those poets who have devoted themselves to the work with and at the speech and who work for the boundlessness of speech dealing with the “alchemy of the word” (Ball) and making an appeal to the reader’s or listener’s imagination and creativity – against all norms and rules of poetry.

Concerning the specific treatment of the speech Oskar Pastior shows an elective affinity with Velimir Chlebnikov and the authors of the Viennese group – Hans Carl Artmann and Ernst Jandl. In his collection of poems “enlarged poetry” (“erweiterte poesie”) of the year 1954 Artmann makes use of his own idiom. In 1978 Pastior’s collections of poems entitled “The Krimgothic fan” (“Der krimgotische Facher”). “Songs and Ballads” (“Lieder und Balladen”) the title of which alludes to the language of the Gothic tribe of the Taurus. The “Gothic language”, Pastior’s private speech, a speech material of various origins, covering the whole speecharea of Central Europe contains many neologisms, is mixed-up and varied by the author, thus giving the words a blurred and even an ambiguous meaning. Particular poems like “The ballad of the defective cable ” (“Die Ballade vom defekten Kabel”) can be decoded easily.




Ed rumpInz kataraktasch-lych


aachabrawnkts Brambl

aachr dohts ...

Schlochtehz ihm

schlochtehz ihm

ehs klaren Zohn

Ihn Uotrfawls

Humrem ha?

Do humrem

Nodo humrem


Ehs ischtolt ain dafaktas



a nedderschtilchz


Cowlbl o Cowlbl wotta


Gehbat uns ain

adakuats Ch-bell

ntmr hiechffn

s-trumpltsch Bvchuelltr


Naawbl (Pastior 1978, p. 13)

Here Pastior pours out his anger about the technical bad luck. His swearing and complaining are culminating in his appeal to killing. Towards the end of the poem the lamentation about God’s calf or better about the defect speech is resumed.

Ernst Jandl often makes use of means of onomatopoeia and sound symbolism: The phonetic poem “schtzngrmm” of about 1956 is among his best known poems, which he has called a mixed form between word and sound poem.



































t?tt (Jandl 1966, p. 47)

By leaving out the vowels in the word “Schutzengraben” you can see and hear that in the reductive form “schtzngrmm” he achieved a hardening of the words, thus confronting a potentially semantic relevant sequence of elements (“schtzgrmm”) with a purely sound-repeating sequence (“t?t?t?t”).

The consonants respectively the sequences of consonants (sch, tz, tzn, gr, grm, t?t?t) which are not selected from the multitude of the consonantal stock of the German language but from the general direction of the word alone, are by means of repetition and variation arranged to reach the aim to imitate the din and yelling of a battle. The consonantal onomatopoeia imitates the sounds of a battle respectively of an attack from the view of a trench. Jandl’s concept of composition and his voice realize an exactness in his imitation to such a high degree that the “terrible absurdity of the war” can be heard. But the listener must meet the requirements to decode the sound group – above all the sound sequence of t-tt in the last line as “Tod” or “tot”, as death or dead.

Ball, Hugo: Gesammelte Gedichte. Zurich 1962

Ball, Hugo: Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary. Ed. by John Elderfield. New York 1974

Claus, Carlfriedrich: Statement, in: Henry Schumann: Ateliergesprache. Leipzig 1976, p. 23-24

Einhorn, Nicolaus: Der Dadasoph Raoul Hausmann. NDR, Hamburg, January 30, 1982

Faltin, Peter: Asthetisierung der Sprache. Dargestellt an Dieter Schnebels ‘Madrasha II‘, in: MELOS /NZ. Mainz 1978, no. 4, p. 287-294

Hausmann, Raoul: Bedeutung und Technik des Lautgedichts, in: NOTA. Munchen 1959, no. 3, p. 30-31

Hausmann, Raoul: Memento des Club Dada. Berlin 1918?1920, in: Streit-Zeit-Schrift. Frankfurt/ Main 1961, vol. 3, no. 2, p. 3-7

Hausmann, Raoul: Die Wandlungen der Sprache bis zur ecriture automatique und dem Lautgedicht, in: NESYO.

Munchen 1963, no. 4/5, p. 18-19

Hausmann, Raoul: Zur Gestaltung einer energetischen Sprachform, in: Sprache im technischen Zeitalter. Stuttgart 1965, no. 14, p. 1193-1196

Hausmann, Raoul: Am Anfang war Dada. Steinbach, Gie?en 1972

Hausmann, Raoul: Bilanz der Feierlichkeit. Texte bis 1933. Munchen 1982

Hausmann, Raoul / Schwitters, Kurt: PIN. Gie?en 1986 (Reprint 1962)

Heisenbuttel, Helmut: Versuch uber die Lautsonate von Kurt Schwitters. Mainz, Wiesbaden 1983

Jandl, Ernst: Laut und Luise. Olten, Freiburg/Breisgau 1966

Mon, Franz: artikulationen. Pfullingen 1959

Mon, Franz: An eine Sage denken, in: Akzente. Munchen 1968, vol. 15, p. 429-436

Mon, Franz: Literatur im Schallraum. Zur Entwicklung der phonetischen Poesie, in: ders.: Texte uber Texte. Neuwied, Berlin 1970

Morgenstern, Christian: Galgenlieder. Berlin 1905

Pastior, Oskar: Der krimgotische Facher. Erlangen 1978

Peters, Manfred: Die mi?lungene Rettung der Sonate. Kurt Schwitters‘ Ursonate als neue Vokal­musik, in:

MUSICA. Kassel 1977, vol. 31, no. 3, p. 217-223

Ruhm, Gerhard: zu meinen auditiven texten, in: Neues Horspiel. Essays, Analysen, Gesprache. Hrsg. von Klaus

Schoning. Frankfurt/Main 1970, p. 46-57

Ruhm, Gerhard: grundlagen des neuen theaters, in: Gerhard Ruhm: TEXT-BILD-MUSIK. ein schau- und lesebuch. Wien 1984, p. 11-20

Ruhm, Gerhard: botschaft an die zukunft. gesammelte sprechgedichte. Reinbek/Hamburg 1988

Scheerbart, Paul: Ich liebe Dich! Ein Eisenbahnroman mit 66 Intermezzos. Berlin 1897

Schwitters, Kurt: /ursonate/, in: Mecano 4/5. Leiden 1923

Schwitters, Kurt: Das literarische Werk. Vol. 1: Lyrik. Koln 1973

Schwitters, Kurt: Das literarische Werk. Vol. 5: Manifeste und kritische Prosa. Koln 1981

Schwitters, Kurt: Wir spielen, bis der Tod uns abholt. Briefe aus funf Jahrzehnten. Frankfurt/Main, Berlin 1975

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Christian SCHOLZ
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