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 Zürich and Berlin (in 1916 to 1923).
Dada was the literary "avant-garde" of that time. Dada integrated the latest
trends in the whole of Europe. In the founders of dada Zürich, 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
second-hand: that is, accepting words (...) that are not newly invented
for our own use." (Ball 1974, p. 71)
In such programmatic 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 scepticism" against the symptoms of time, that is to say
the destruction of all values through the First World War.
This "complete scepticism" 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.
slide 6: Hugo Ball: performances, Cabaret
Voltaire, Zürich 1916
Apart from Ball's criticism of time and
speech also the "collective psychosis of creativity" of the Zürich
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, repeatable 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
On June, 23rd in 1916 Ball among others
performed his phonetic poem "gadji beri bimba":
7: Hugo Ball: "gadji beri bimba" (1916)
4: Hugo Ball: "gadji beri bimba"
Michel Giroud: "projection sur un texte d'Hugo Ball"
Here Ball makes use of alliteration in
connection with vowel variations and other structrual techniques of combinations
of children's language. Obviously Ball makes use of all possible forms
of linguistic 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 Ball's 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
The second dadaist in my introduction
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 four years. I invite you to listen to an excerpt
of this complete reading.
slide 8: portrait
of Kurt Schwitters
track 5: Kurt Schwitters:
"Ursonate" (excerpt, 1932/93)
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" (Kurt 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."
(Kurt 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. "Langauge
'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." (Kurt 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" 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." (Kurt 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 emphasised 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".
slide 9: Kurt Schwitters: "Sonate" (1923)
Even in 1921, Schwitters had hit upon
the dominant theme of his sonata on hearing Raoul Hausmann's rendering
of his "Poster Poem" "fmsbw" in Prag.
slide 10: Raoul Hausmann:
slide 11: Kurt Schwitters:
In the ten years between 1923 and 1932,
several excerpts from the "Ursonate" appeared.
slide 12: Kurt Schwitters:
The whole first part of the "Ursonate"
with commentary which was probably complete 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
The idea of a "total work of art" in the
sense of a "coalescence of art form" 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 Heißenbüttel 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.
Bernd Scheffer, a critic, 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
In contrast to the opinions held by Scheffer
and Heißenbüttel, Manfred Peters considers the "Ursoante" 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". (Manfred
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" (Kurt Schwitters1973, p. 313) since, as he writes later, "the
German language has simpler and more exact speech sounds than, for example,
the English (Kurt 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.
slide 13: portrait
of Kurt Schwitters
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 Heißenbüttel objects to Schwitters's phonemes, asserting
that they border upon something resembling the calls of birds.
With reference to excerpts from the "Ursonate"
read by the author, an attempt will be made now to examine this critical
appraisal of Schwitters's work. Let us listen to Schwitters's reading recorded
Kurt Schwitters: "Ursonate" (excerpt, 1932)
slide 14: Kurt Schwitters:
"Ursonate" (excerpt, INTRODUCTION)
After parts of the introduction, Schwitters
then introduces the four principal themes of the first movement of the
The first theme takes over some of the
sound cadences from Raoul Hausmann's "Poster Poem" "fsmbw", where Schwitters
inserts, as Hausmann himself probably had in performances, additional vowels
in the interests of improving the pronunciation of the cadence.
The second theme in the performance subtitled
by Schwitters "The departure of the train to Dresden" hardly allows the
word "Dresden" to be recognised: the phonetic structure of the word is
dissolved while individual phonemes are enlarged and extended thus rendering
the word unintelligible.
The third theme executes cadences or series
of sounds which make demands on speech usage widely deviant from the purpose-oriented
requirements of the language - "nnz krr", for example, and push their associative
component into the background. Individual sound series recall word meanings:
"Rinn", for example, is reminiscent of "Rinne".
The fourth theme, too, as the result of
heaping up consonants, distends well-known words: "Rrummpff" might be equated
with "Rumpf" (Rump); the sound series "tillff" and "till" in the second
theme recall to mind the Christian name "Till" in which case the pilling
up of consonants only slightly weakens the insinuation.
Some series, such as "Jüü Kaa"
are sung or, as a question mark indicates, are given rising intonation
at the end of the "sentence".
slide 15: Kurt Schwitters:
"Ursonate" (excerpt, SCHERZO)
The "scherzo", in opinion of many critics,
stands out as the result of accord and contrast of the individual sound
combinations. After the repetition of individual first lines, the "trio"
follows and the complete "scherzo" which closes the third movement. The
form of the "scherzo", including the "trio" roughly corresponds to that
of a sonata i. e. ABA / CDC / ABA.
In his commentary on the "Ursonate", Schwitters
describes the third movement in the following way:
"the third movement is a
genuine scherzo, watch the rapid sequence of themes: lanke trr gll, pe
pe pe pe pe pe and Ooka which are very different from one another and from
which the character of a scherzo arises, the bizarre form lanke trr gll
is immutable and stubbornly returns at the same tempo. in rrmmmp and rrrnnff
there is an echo of rummpf tillff too of the first movement, but now it
no longer sounds as gentle as the bleat of a lamb, but short and imperative,
altogether masculine, the Rrumpftillftoo in the third movement does not
sound so tender either.
the ziiuu lenn trill and lümpff tümpff
trill are derived in sound from the main theme lanke trr gll. the ziiuu
iiuu of the trio is very reminiscent of ziiuu ennze in section 1, but here
is pronounced and gay.
the scherzo is considerably different
from all other movements in that the long bee is of extraordinary importance.
the scherzo has no bee in it." (Kurt Schwitters 1973, p. 312)
Schwitters characerizes this third section
as that of a sonata in the process of development toward the subsequent
movement. Schwitters's notes also clarify the relationship of the "scherzo"
to the other movements of the "Ursonate": "And here the comparison is the
most important for it is here that one comes to the full enjoyment of the
whole if it is possible to keep in mind all the parts and their relationships."
(Kurt Schwitters 1975, p. 108) With the help of specific sound and typographic
indications the listener is supposed to imagine all the parts of the "Ursonate"
assembled in his mind so as to apprehend the "work in its entirety".
In assessing this sound sonata, an analysis
of the sound material of the "scherzo" is very revealing. The sound combinations
accord more often than they contrast with one another. The first lines
are very often repeated as are also sounds in other series such as "pe
pe", "pii pii" or "Ooka ooka" so that confrontation with unfamiliar sounds
is rarely necessary. Heißenbüttel goes so far as to maintain
that lines 1-6 are "screamed" by Schwitters "thus bordering upon the onomatopoeic
in resembling the calls of birds so that this utterances sometimes sounds
like a sound of Nature, the cry of a bird, say." (Helmut Heißenbüttel
1983, p. 13)
Summing up, we can say that although Schwitters's
commendably artistic rendering places constraint on the associative content
of the sound series, that material arising from German vocabulary and occuring
in sound combination nevertheless remains partly recognisable. The very
extensive treatment of the themes and motives of the "Ursonate" is effected
by limited variable, phonetic material whose very limitation is emphasized
by the excessive use of repetition.
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.
Heißenbüttel suggests that the "Ursonate" is a parody of music
and language: "In filling up the sonata phonetically, Schwitters pokes
fun at it." (Helmut Heißenbüttel 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 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 Hausmann's 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 Jörg
Drews and the sound poet Bob Cobbing accentuate the importance of Hausmann
as "father of sound poetry".
slide 16: portrait
of Raoul Hausmann
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.
slide 17: Raoul Hausmann:
While in his "Poster Poems" "OFFEAH" and
"fmsbw" both made in 1918 he did not yet reach the visual prevailed as
the principle of his production, he only very rarely left his principle
to the chance in his optophonetic poems.
slide 18: Raoul Hausmann:
In his sound poem "kp'erioum" (made in
1918 or 1919) he continues to use the composing tendencies of the first
two "Poster Poems" and he extends and transforms this poem into an optophonetic
poem, which is characterised by deliberate visualization of the letters
on the surface of the sheet of paper and the conveying and even surpassing
their tonal valency. Hausmann is reading now his sound poems:
slide 19: portrait
of Raoul Hausmann
8: "fmsbw/OFFEAH/kp'erioum" (1918/1958)
So 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." (Raoul
Hausmann) The sound poem as formed by Hausmann fights against the vulgar
utilitarian state of the speech and against the bourgeois devaluation of
the 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.
This short survey about the idea and the
form of the dadaistic phonetic poems must find an end now because of the
limited time for my lecture.
I am going to consider the so called "Sprachmusiksprachen"
(an English translation might be 'speech-music-speech') of the post-war
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" (Hugo 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
After 1945 the authors of the Viennese
group (Wiener Gruppe) established connections to the tradition of the modernity.
Gerhard Rühm, Konrad Bayer, Friedrich Achleitner, Oswald Wiener, Hans
Carl Artmann and other young poets and artists read everything they could
find about expressionism, dadaism, surrealism and constrivism. 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.
slide 20: portrait
of Gerhard Rühm
To bring up poetry to the level of consciousness
of painting and music means for Gerhard Rühm, to expand the idea of
material and the possibilities of poetry. Material of poetry means for
Gerhard Rühm not only the single word and the surface of the paper,
but mainly the individual speech sounds:
"the sopken word is a product
of sounds (vowels) and noise(consonants) and beyond it means a term, which
is reduced in the sound compositions." (Gerhard Rühm 1968, 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" Rühm 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, Rühm
calls "sound gestures". 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" 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." (Gerhard Rühm 1988, p. 13)
Gerhard Rühm: expressionen 1-12 (1952/53)
9: Gerhard Rühm: expressionen 1-12
Rühm's momentarily flaring up "expressions"
show such a brevity in their duration that associations of content cannot
come into being. Rühm's aim is to perform speech material and not
creating an emotional atmosphere.
His phonetic poem "prayer" is based on
very simple organizing principles, which are explained by Rühm as
"the vowels a,
a, u, e, 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". (Gerhard Rühm 1970, p. 48)
Gerhard Rühm: "gebet" (1954)
10: Gerhard Rühm: "gebet"
Apart from the structural information Rühm
- by his way of performing the poem - also attributes to his "gebet" ("prayer")
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 Rühm
applies a new and more pronounced accentuation in his "Wiener Lautgedichte"
("Viennese phonetic poems"), 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". (Gerhard Rühm
1988, p. 42)
In his "rede an österreich" ("addressing
Austria") - created between 1955 and 1958 - Rühm 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". (Gerhard Rühm 1988, p. 42) I invite
you to listen to Gerhard Rühm's "addressing Austria".
Gerhard Rühm: "rede an österreich" (1955-58)
11: Gerhard Rühm: "rede an österreich"
In later radio-texts Rühm also makes
use of the device to alienate voices by means of manipulating tape recorders.
In the seventies Rühm had the chance to adapt some texts of the fifties
to the radio, for instance the "hymne an lesbierinnen" (Hymn to Lesbians").
Gerhard Rühm: hymne an lesbierinnen (1956)
12: Gerhard Rühm: Hymne an Lesbierinnen
In the radio station Rühm made use
of the technical possibilities of those days. He made the tape-recording
of the "hymne an lesbierinnen" run backwards and transpose it - by accelerating
the tape - into different tone pitches. The four versions of the speech
text were mixed more and more tightly in four different versions.
Gerhard Rühm: Hymne an Lesbierinnen (1956/72)
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.
slide 25: portrait
of Franz Mon
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." (Franz 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 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." (Franz 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 co-articulation 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." (Franz Mon 1970, p. 103)
Franz Mon's "articulations" were partly
published by Neske press 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 illustration of these theoretical statement could
be heard in his anthology "Phonetic Poetry" of the year 1971. I invite
you to listen to Mon's "erge erekt".
slide 26: Franz
Mon: "Text" /"rakon"/ (1960)
14: Franz Mon: "erge erekt" (1962)
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. I
invite you to listen to an excerpt of "Montage from 'artikulationen 62'".
Franz Mon: "Montage aus 'artikulationen 62'" (excerpt, "sechs/sichs/sochs"
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. 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." (Franz
Mon 1959, p. 29f.)
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. I invite you to listen to an excerpt of
Mon's "da du der bist" broadcasted in 1973.
Franz Mon: excerpt from "da du der bist" (1973)
While Mon's work of sound poetry is rather
small because of the diversity of his artistic endeaver 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 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 - exstatic 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. We will listen now to
Carlfriedrich Claus's "Dynamic coarticulation no. 1 and 2" performed in
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 renewdly.
All that is according to Claus the foundation of his later experimental
attempts concerning sound poetry.
The recording 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."
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.
I invite you to listen to an excerpt of
Carlfriedrich Claus's "five single-track sound processes" of the year 1982.
Here Claus succeeeds 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 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 work of the year
1993 called "Lautaggregat" produced for the Studio of Acoustic Art at the
West German Radio Cologne fulfills the musical claim to sound poetry. These
speech operations have been realized in dummy head stereophony. I am going
to present an excerpt of this 55 minutes long radio play:
Carlfriedrich Claus: Lautaggregat (excerpt, 1991)
slide 27: portrait
of Oskar Pastior
While Gerhard Rühm, 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
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"
(Hugo 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 "erweiterte poesie" ("enlarged poetry") of the
year 1954 Artmann makes use of his own idiom. In 1978 Pastior's collections
of poems entitled "Der krimgotische Fächer. Lieder und Balladen" ("The
Krimgothic fan. Songs and Ballads") 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 speech
area 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 "Die Ballade vom defekten Kabel" ("The Ballad of
the defective cable") can be decoded easily.
Oskar Pastior: "Ballade vom defekten Kabel" (1978)
20: Oskar Pastior: "Ballade vom defekten Kabel"
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.
In his "sonetburger" ("Sonet-burgers")
and "Anagrammgedichte" ("Anagram poems") of 1983 and 1985 Pastior continued
to develop his alchemy of words or better his genetics of speech. For his
Sonetburger-poems Pastior took his Petrarca-translation as his model. According
to the general directions of a group called OULIP he acted according to
two rules: Firstly: Every verse consists of a certain number of characters
and spaces per line. Secondly: Every poem must be written in the form of
a sonnet. While writing Pastior discovered the anagram. So the "Sonet-burgers"
are sonnets and anagram poems at the same time. They explore the room (which
means here battlefield or arena) between certainty and uncertainty, between
semantic significance and semantic insignificance. I invite you to listen
to Pastior's "sonet-burger".
Oskar Pastior: "sonet-burger" (1983)
21: Oskar Pastior: "sonetburger"
The reader can find references to semantics
in Pastior's poems, as he doesn't disintegrate the word completely. However
the play with the material of the speech is directed not only from the
meaning of the word but also from the musical parameter as we can see in
the "Sonetburger-poem" "der bug hat zwei fübe":
Oskar Pastior: "der bug hat zwei fübe" (1983)
22: Oskar Pastior: "der bug hat zwei fübe"
slide 31: portrait
of Ernst Jandl
Ernst Jandl often makes use of means of
onomatopoeia and sound symbolism: The phonetic poem "schtzngrm" of about
1956 is among his best known poems, which he has called a mixed form between
word and sound poem.
Ernst Jandl: schtzngrmm (1956/66)
By leaving out the vowels in the word "Schützengraben"
("the trenches") 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
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" (Ernst Jandl) 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.
I am going to play the version produced
by the BBC London in 1966 followed by the "Ode to N".
Ernst Jandl: Schützengraben
Ernst Jandl: Ode auf N (1956/66)
24: Ernst Jandl: Ode to N (1966)
In Jandl's phonetic poem "tohuwabohu" speech
like music become a mere sounding procedure the meaning of which is the
procedure itself. The word "tohuwabohu" in so far fits into the disintegration
into single phonems of the sound structure as we have here a direct relation
between signs and the significant and the phonems - created as sound and
rythm - can render the meaning of the words.
Already in his recitative poem "Ode to
N" Jandl demonstrated disintegration of speech and the manifesting transformation
of the semantically effective sound forms in the course of which Jandl
showed that the original meaning of the word is latent in the tonally
effective remainders and maintains the aesthetic tension.
According to some scholars we can call
this already a sound composition. But in "tohuwabohu" the character of
a sound composition is even more noticible.
The sounds are not longer remainders of
speech, but elements of a sound composition, the effectiveness of which
is not its latent tension towards the disintegration meanings of words,
but exclusively on the structure of sound.
Inspite of some passages in which sounds
melt like in a melting-pot of squash, Jandl does not avoid going back to
the meaning of the word: "otto", "tut", "Tut tot", "hut ab" (Otto, does
dead, hat off) (Ernst Jandl 1966, p. 35)
Obviously even those phonetic poems, which
have been classified as "sound compositions" by experts must have certain
intentional areas of association, which are realized by means of specific
forming of the elements of the speech, to give the recipient a chance to
remember the every-day world of experience without which - according to
Jandl - phonetic poems would be completely amorphous.
In the end of my lecture I am going to
present firstly Ernst Jandl's reading of "tohuwabohu" and secondly Lauren
Newton's interpretation together with musicians once again.
Ernst Jandl: "tohuwabohu" (1966)
25: Ernst Jandl: tohuwabohu (Performed by Ernst Jandl)
track 26: Ernst
jandl: "tohuwabohu" (Performed by Lauren Newton and others)
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