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Listening in on the Sound Class: Discussion 1

January 28, 2014

Finishing up our first full week of course work for my sound class: I’ve included a few links to some of the samples I’ve asked students to post to their own SoundCloud accounts. This task was meant to give us a chance to explore sound as an object of listening in and of itself – which, I hope we can see is not just listening to a certain object or thing. In this latter case, we can say that we are not so much listening, as we are attempting to surveil or observe a particular object – focusing, that is, on something that has already caught our attention and accordingly been identified as noteworthy.  One might compare this mode of “listening” to the way a predator might zero in on potential prey. By contrast, for this exercise, I asked class members simply to listen closely to how sound in general might present itself within a certain environment. How, in other words, do we hear things that do not catch our attention? A surprising number of arguments and comparisons seem to emerge almost immediately: listening through some of our examples here, we can see how certain attributes play off of each other to help us interpret the sounds as they proceed. Shifts in tempo, intensity, pitch tend to be especially helpful here. Without these changes, the sound will lose much of its identifying quality pretty quickly. A monotony (monotone) of sorts will begin to seep into the space before us. Using this approach to sound, we see how strange and alien even the most mundane industrial and household objects can appear. In “bouncing ball,” the title first seems to give it away, but the slightly off rhythm makes it almost sound like a cardiac machine – albeit one attached to someone in need of a healthier heart! You can hear a slight metallic beep after each percussive thud. Samantha’s choice in sound is similarly nondescript, but the patterns and shifts in pitch make it quite intense at times. This student’s sound account has an intriguing title: Wrongful Turn, fitting, perhaps, given the fascinating narrative that emerges from these bursts of what seems to be fingers tapping. The sounds themselves instantly transform into a series of frantic dialogues – a common enough occurrence in our era of digital communications. It’s hard not to imagine each stream of ticks and taps circling in around a specific set of statements and ideas. This is sound at the speed of thought.


Students prepare to make their first soundscapes.

Beloved of Ra

September 22, 2013

via Flickr


September 22, 2013

via Flickr

GW Bridge seem from Harlem by Hudson River

August 29, 2013

Riverside parkvia Flickr

Two Future Binaries

May 21, 2012

This article chronicles the transition of the well-established online poetry journal Jacket to archival status hosted at the University of Pennsylvania and the parallel launch of a successor publication, Jacket2. The author addresses the new journal’s mission with special attention to the opportunities and challenges afforded to this digitally mediated resource.

via Two Future Binaries.

Kristen Gallagher a la Perec

May 14, 2012

Kristen Gallagher treats us to a new project inspired partly by George Perec’s early aesthetic experiments in information and consumer culture. Here she is reading off a list of very edible deli and other pret-a-manger items found at Grand Central Station. It was a bit too easy to imagine them arranged, portioned and displayed behind glass, prices affixed.

“that just goes on and on and on”


Transcribing Dubstep – Rap meets Russian Futurism

February 8, 2012

Ben and Mindsparks shows us what a transcription of Dubstep might look like: Click here.

Can this be compared to the Russian Futurist concept of “Zaum” – in the 1920s, after the Russian Revolution, various poets, notably Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksei Kruchenykh, began exploring concepts in sound symbolism. The ideas were collected under the title: заум or zaum.

As you can see, the word “Zaum” is built phonetically from the Russian prefix “за” – which translates basically to “trans” or to go “beyond”. The second part of the word is “ум” – a noun, meaning “reason” or “sense”. So, “заум” means beyond reason or trans-reason. Can we not say заум is the practice of using language to go beyond reason…?

Most importantly, we must remember that movements like this one were in many ways prompted by the same questions we raised in class last night. To speak plainly, just how language might actually convey meaning or sense may be much more complex than we first realise. In Zaum, we see the more typical, conventional relationship between language and ideas being fitfully overturned. Rather than words, phrases or terms being employed in a standard way as modes of reference, Zaum imagines the communication of ideas to occur much more like a kind of ongoing downloading process – like imagine if a particular sound could instantly trigger or construct a concept in the brain. I say “BAQESwwwsssht” and suddenly the person who hears it understands the theory of relativity.

PETE’S READING SERIES: Reading 20 January: Josef Kaplan, Brian Ang, Laura Elrick

January 18, 2012



Josef Kaplan, Brian Ang, Laura Elrick

709 Lorimer St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

North of Invention: A Festival of Canadian Poetry

February 11, 2011

The Kelly Writer’s House at U Penn in Philadelphia hosted a two day conference on contemporary Canadian poetry, featuring talks and debates by some Canada’s most interesting, experimental writers. After the conference, the writers were ushered 99 miles east to NYC for a weekend series of “conversations” and readings at Poets House, right here on the Hudson. Happily, for me, many of the guests hailed from Vancouver, giving me a chance to see many good (and missed) friends in a single room. 

It was certainly refreshing to see positions, aesthetics and craft played out among many New York writers and readers. My attendance was unfortunately limited to the Sunday chapter of the festival. If Sunday was any indication of the energy and intellectual clout permeating the entire event, I would definitely recommend accessing the footage and records available at the Kelly Writers House archive.

Robertson and Derksen began their talk, focusing on the concept of what Jeff termed a “radical temporality” in both their poetics. The term directs us to their respective poetic forms, as much as it is refers to ideology. Temporality can serve as a critique here against the more typical conservative idealisation of the past: what Derksen sees as a particularly pernicious example of surplus value in society. Here, the Right’s revolutionary gaze begins with an imagined moment of displaced origins, a kind of primordial explosion that has severed society from its superior, more holistic, morally accountable past. The Left, of course, can only respond by shifting this very same explosion into the future, re-conceiving it as an event yet to be experienced.  Henceforth, any subsequent social displacement emerges as a state to be desired, yielding a progressive response to today’s social displacement. Both positions agree, however, on the problem of the present, and it is exactly here at this stage in the argument that Robertson and Derksen “radically” engage their poetics. Temporality occurs throughout their respective works as a kind of ideological obscenity. This point is more evident in the very language of Robertson’s work. She began the conversation that Sunday, asking “If place is always retrospective, how do we begin?” before deadpanning what is for her the only response possible: “With blatant flaws.”

For me, her use of the conditional voice seems key – upon first reading (or hearing), I am always tempted to accept the voice as normative, as if to ask, how can place be anything but retrospective. To consider place, whether sensually or topographically, seems always to to call up a mode of reflection. I immediately feel the timidity of the uncertain tourist at home. The alienated “I”, dislocated from all surrounding space  thanks, in part, to the disaster of uncontained, unregulated urban development. But again the structure of her work continues to demand something else, leading us to consider the voice in a more rhetorical fashion. IF place is always retrospective, flaws abound.

The question of how best to consider the past (as information, however flawed, as public relations discourse, as research, as mythology, as code) emerges thus as one of the more interesting points of discussion between the two writers.

Here’s a video of Robertson reading the first lines of the much longer “”First Spontaneous Horizontal Restaurant” from Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip (Coach House, 2009).  

I was also amazed as usual by Jordan Scott’s ongoing collision with the corporeal, this time navigated via the discourse of the “interrogation” and various probings around the inherent disharmony between speech and language.  That Sunday he was in conversation with a. rawlings and Maja Jantar.

Here’s another video shot during the reading portion of the event. The inimitable Christian Bok performs an aria that certainly deserves more airplay.

I’ll try and put up more footage as I render it somewhat viewable.