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Michael LENTZ (Germany)

Michael Lentz (b. 1964) – poet, researcher, lingua-artist, curator. Author of numerous articles on the issues of theory and history of sound poetry, of thematic programs on the radio, publications in magazines, catalogues and anthologies. Performed at different festivals, readings and concerts, also as a member of J. A. Riedl’s ensemble. In 2000 the “edition selene” publishing house (Vienna) published his critical-documentary research consisting of 2 volumes: Lautpoesie /-musik nach 1945. Eine kritisch dokumentarische Bestandsaufnahme – a basis work, dedicated to the theory and history of sound poetry since 1945. In 1998 he did his doctorate dissertation at the Universitat GH Siegen (Siegen). For more information see the bio-bibliography of the participant.The material has been especially prepared by the author for the present edition based on the: Michael Lentz. Lautpoesie/-musik nach 1945. Eine kritisch-dokumentarische Bestandaufnahme (2 Bande) (Wien: edition selene, 2000). © 2000 Michael Lentz, Munich.

A SHORT OUTLINE OF SOUND POETRY / MUSIC AFTER 1945

The sound poem is a category of acoustic art that inhabits the intermedia borderline area between poetry and music, which in its genre-transcending multiplicity, especially since 1945, mobilizes all speech organs, auxiliary parts and the breathing mechanism that contribute to the articulatory process and makes the entire range of human sound effects perceptible.

Within the hierarchy of perception, the unstable relations in sound poetry of, inter alia, speech and oral characteristics and generally of sound and voice constitute an art of sound articulation variously staged for one or more speakers.

Sound poems as “auditive irritation experiments” (Martin Maurach) feel their way along the sound qualities of speech and voice from the smallest phonemic unit to the hierarchically substructured inventory of whole texts describable by means of syntax, semantics and prosody. With their expressively oriented, often emotionally fed “articulatory gestures” (Gerhard Ruhm ), they frequently leave us with the aural impression that they are imitating the gestures and articulation flow of a genuine language.

Sound poems are acoustically realized on the basis of notations that can be ‘typologized’ in the following ways: sign-coded texts, [i.e., alphabetical combinations of letters (anagrams, kaimata, permutations/commutations, palindromes, mesostics, etc., i.e., the de-semantization of the available speech material), phonetic transcription, typographical optophonetic notation (gradations in lettering, bold print, etc.), graphic-iconic scores with, in part, privately-coded script fonts, typographical actions (fragmented lettering, “vibration texts”, pictorial configurations of letters, perturbed type, dissociation of lettering, letter-centered decompositions [in part, typewriter poems], expanded script material (supplementary signs), (scriptural-)material substitutions, ‘figurations’ (prints with ink, photomontage, script inventions)], conceptual inscription, descriptive notation, indicative notation, animated notation, attempts to determine prosodic features graphically/iconically, ‘musical’ notation with a partial adoption of conventional scores (5-line system, division into beats, metronomic counting, ...), spontaneous articulations no longer necessarily (re)produceable phonographically (in part directly onto the sound carrier as ‘acoustic notation’).

Luciano Berio.
Thema - Omaggio a Joyce, 1985

After 1945 sound poems/poetry can be basically divided into three different types, each of which plumb the borderline between improvised indeterminancy and the greatest possible determination, also in association with non-vocal sound and noise: pure real-time pieces (in part using electro-acoustics or electronics for acoustic amplification and for distorting the sound and noise of vocal and non-vocal origin, e.g., as echo or reverberation; recordings on sound or image carriers have documentary and distributional function), live performances in combination with prefabricated sound or picture material, i.e., with acoustic or optical reproductive equipment, as well as pure studio-time pieces, whose reception is dependent on audiovisual media.

Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Untitled, 1968

The term “Lautgedicht” (sound poem) was first used by Franz Richard Behrens (11 June 1916 in “Feldtagebuch”). It was given its first poetic formulation by Hugo Ball (diary entry on 23 June 1916 in “Die Flucht aus der Zeit”). The first elaborated sound poems were by Paul Scheerbart (“Kikakoku! Ekoralaps!”, “Lifakubo iba solla ...”, in 1897) and Christian Morgenstern (“Das grosse Lalula”, 1905). The sound poem was systematically probed in Russian (Velimir Khlebnikov, Iliazd (=Ilya Zdanevich), Vasilij Kamensky, Aleksej Kruchonykh, Olga Rosanova, Igor Terentev, Alexander Tufanov), in Italian Futurism (Giacomo Balla, Francesco Cangiullo, Fortunato Depero, Farfa, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti), in Dadaism (Hugo Ball, Raoul Hausmann) and, inter alios, by Pierre Albert-Birot, Rudolf Blumner and Kurt Schwitters.

Bernard Heidsieck.
Poème-Partition, 1958-59

After 1945 the term “Lautgedicht” was assimilated into the broader concept of phonetic or “Lautpoesie” (sound poetry, poesie sonore, poesia sonora). At the same time the term became differentiated, taking on names for specific genres and aesthetic approaches. This differentiation was also the result of the emergence of new media and new techniques of speech processing such as tape – first used by the sound poet F. Dufrene in 1953 – vocoder, synthesizer, computer, video, the cutting and overdubbing of different signals or tracks, manipulation of tape speed, the use of stereo-panoramic effects and reverberation, tapes run backwards, as well as sampling:

“Metapoesie” (Altagor [=Jean Vernier]), “text-sound composition” (Lars-Gunnar Bodin , Sten Hanson, Bengt Emil Johnson), “Instrumentation verbale” (Jean-Louis Brau), “audio-poemes”, “poesie sonore/electronique” (Henri Chopin), “Lautprozesse” (Carlfriedrich Claus ), “concrete sound poetry” (Bob Cobbing ), “Verbosonie” (Herman Damen), “Ultra-Lettrisme”, “Crirythme”, “Musique concrete vocale” (Francois Dufrene), “Poemes partitions”/“poesie sonore” (Bernard Heidsieck ), “poemes lettristes”, “lettrisme sonore” (Isidore Isou), “Audiotettura”, “poesia sonora” (Arrigo Lora-Totino ), “artikulationen” (Franz Mon), “Verbophonie” (Arthur Petronio), “Akustische” and “Optische Lautgedichte” (Josef Anton Riedl ), “auditive poesie”, “lautgedichte” (Gerhard Ruhm ), “skribentische Lautpoesie” (Valeri Scherstjanoi ), “sonorisierte audiovisuelle Gedichte” (Paul de Vree), “Megapneumes” (Gil J. Wolman).

Eugenio Miccini.
Visual poetry, 1972

However, a common historic prototype of sound poems or sound poetry – such as H. Ball’s “Verse ohne Worte” or “Klanggedichte” – to which all trends in this field of phonetic poetry/music lead back, cannot be necessarily assumed. What goes under sound poetry in English, for instance, does not (anymore) cover the term “Lautpoesie” in German, depending on the definition. Just as the criterion for a-semantics, which was a kind of programmatic-aesthetic war cry of concretism in the 50s and 60s, is not at all useful for distinguishing other forms of poetry.

Giuseppe Chiari.
Untitled, 90s

The sound-poetical and sound-musical experimentation after 1945, which revolutionized voice and lettering, is able to transmit an aesthetically border-transcending experience that makes us conscious of “the kind of boundaries that language in fact touches: semantic, phonetic, acoustic, rhythmic, rhetorical.” (F. Mon)

F. Dufrene, with his spontaneous “crirythmes”, founded Ultra-Lettrism in 1953, to which J.-L. Braus’ “instrumentations verbales” (from 1962 on) and – retroactively – G. J. Wolman’s “Megapneumes” (from 1951 on) can be assigned. Turning away from the sign-coded Lettrism of Isidore Isou with its “lexique des lettres nouvelles” (I. Isou, Maurice Lemaitre, F. Dufrene, Roland Sabatier, i.a.) and concentrating instead on the articulatory process and its organic-genetic production (speech organs, articulators), Ultra-Lettrism utilizes the physical-existential prerequisites of articulation, whereby in reference to perceptual hierarchy, a reciprocal relationship between the figurative language signals and the articulation process is make tangible. This Dufrene accomplishes with an extensive play of nonverbal-paralinguistic signals, emotional in origin (e.g., tongue clicking, throat clearing, coughing, sobbing, whimpering, moaning, laughing, babbling, panting, gargling, screeching), of ‘unarticulated’ screams and breath sequences all the way to snoring and spittle noises. To a much greater extent than R. Hausmann’s “optophonetic” poems to which much innovative impulse came after 1945, this – by his aesthetic functionalization of the “total sound-producing potential of man” – set in motion a radical paradigmatic change in the history of sound poetry. The spontaneous articulation (“cri automatique”) of a single speaker (the sound poet) is manipulated by a mnemotechnically reproduced articulation pattern as well as by a conscious kinesthetic feedback of the speech organs and a self-affected auditive feedback during the articulation proceedings. The acoustically perceived voice (recorded live or directly onto tape, i.e., without a score), as a central element of phonetic or sound poetry/music, moves to the foreground of our interest in production and reception theory.

Luca Salvadori.
Dipartita, 80s

We can see from the example of H. Chopin , who from 1957 on also recorded his “poesie sonore” directly onto tape (without a score), how difficult it is to distinguish between the voice-body and electroacoustic segments, the ‘switch’ between machine and body/voice, owing to the multiple overdubbing of single tracks.

As a ‘self-experiment’, sound poetry/music aims to feedback interventions into its own psycho-physical system, accompanied by the resulting self-awareness and reactions. C. Claus pursued this (existential) approach most radically in his acoustical works as well.

Betty Danon.
Untitled, 1973

A special case within the history of sound poetry and composition after 1945 is provided by the “acoustic” (i.e., vocal and instrumental) sound poetry of J. A. Riedl, insofar as Riedl, in one and the same person, is a composer of, i.a., musique concrete and electronic music as well as of sound poems.

The Dutchman, Jaap Blonk and the Russian, Valeri Scherstjanoi , who lives in Munich, are among the most distinguished sound poets of today, being conscious of tradition and, at the same time, innovative.

The crucial significance of the voice (the body) in sound poetry/music has always begged the question of whether sound poetry is not ‘really’ music. J. A. Riedl understands his “acoustic sound poems” as “sound music” and as “musical speech”. His “crirythmes” F. Dufrene calls “musique concrete vocale”. Dieter Schnebel speaks of “phonetic music” in the context of his speech and sound compositions made detectable through the process of articulation production. We thus see that after 1945 analogous strategies have been worked out for speech or voice sounds in sound poetry, for example by Pierre Schaeffer/Pierre Henry (“Symphonie pour un homme seul”, 1948-51), Karlheinz Stockhausen (“Gesang der Junglinge”, 1956), D. Schnebel (“Fur Stimmen”, 1956-68; “Glossolalie”, 1959-64; “Maulwerke”, 1968-74), Luciano Berio (“Thema – Omaggio a Joyce”, 1958; “Visage”, 1961) or Gyorgy Ligeti (“Aventures”, 1962; “Nouvelles Aventures”, 1962/65). Sound poets liberated the voice even more radically from all conventional auditory habits in their capacity as composers. These last have taken on sound-poetical voice practices in their compositions or worked directly with sound poets, for example, P. Henry with F. Dufrene and Jacques Spacagna.

It is the exception, not the rule, that the voice used in sound poetry/music is a highly trained, professional one, as in the extended vocal techniques used by the experimental voice artists Joan La Barbara, Isabella Beumer , Diamanda Gallas, Phil Minton and Meredith Monk.

Richard Martel.
Untitled, 1984

Sound poetry as a vocal performance and a multimedia art form is made up of music, dance, performance and visual elements and is a component of most ‘avant-garde’ and ‘experimental’ tendencies.

From their motivation, sound poets are opposed to the narrative and anecdotal (in their opinion long exhausted, but repeatedly mentioned in the literature) as well as to any lyrical-atmospheric understanding of poetry (H. Ball, 1916/27; A. Lora-Totino , 1993). An essential objective of sound poetry, which is also valid for the rediscovered oral and ethno-poetic traditions, is the disclosure and disruption of social and aesthetic taboos. Sound poets, among other things, lay ideologically critical claim to exposing the aura of such florid concepts as understanding, beauty, art, ‘edification’, etc., and nullifying them.

Translated by Jeanne Haunschild.

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