Academic journal article Visible Language

Relations between Sound Poetry and Visual Poetry: The Path from the Optophonetic Poem to the Multimedia Text

Academic journal article Visible Language

Relations between Sound Poetry and Visual Poetry: The Path from the Optophonetic Poem to the Multimedia Text

Article excerpt

A brief history of the development of scores for sound poetry during the twentieth century is presented. The work of Hugo Ball, Raoul Hausmann and Kurt Schwitters is the focus for the early part of the century. From mid-century to end, the work of Franz Mon, Carlfriedrich Claus and Valeri Scherstjanoi is the focus.

Any attempt to distinguish between sound poetry and visual poetry is extremely difficult, for according to Reinhard Doehl's definition visual texts are sound texts without a sound. In other words visual texts are a sort of orchestral "score" for a sound text.

Futurist and dadaist sound poets have rightly stressed the difficulties to represent sound texts, as they approach the border of a semantic absence of meaning with regard to the nuances of sound.

But it was not until the invention of the tape recorder (in the fifties) which paved the way to solve the problem how to represent sound texts. The tape recording makes the original repetition of a once formed, perhaps even spontaneously formed, sound event available to us and offers the sound poet new methods of composing his texts similar to the methods of creating a film. After all the authentic sound poetic work only does exist in a tape recorded form.1

The techniques of computer sampling in the area of sound and refined video techniques in the visual area brought an enormous increase of audiovisual methods to recording. Nevertheless German sound poets hardly make use of these techniques today.

The aim of this essay is to present an annotated historical survey regarding the "scores" of sound poetry. But in doing so Bernd Scheffer points out a restriction: It's rather pointless to talk continuously of wordless, pre-verbal or nonverbal perceptions within a visual area.

The syntax of the visual area

In 1910 Guillaume Apollinaire propagated the use of phonographs to record the voices of poets. The Italian futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti developed his strategy of "liberation of words" (parole in liberto), which was expected to produce the following effects:

* to set free words and sounds on the surface of a sheet of paper or in acoustic space

* to rediscover the spoken word for poetry and to use sounds of the world around us (onomatopoeia).

In the wake of Stephane Mallarme, Marinetti revolutionized typography. The visual organization of the tavole parolibere was characterized by "freely" spreading out scraps of sentences, single words and asyntactical groups of words or isolated letters. The arrangement produced the effect that those scraps of sentences, single words, etc. fit into expressive and often semantic, pictorial configurations - the spatial constellation produced the meaning and the context. Traditional grammatical syntax is replaced by spatial syntax.

As the antitraditional and revolutionary use of typographic design produces a peculiar visual effect of expression - containing also acoustic qualities -- the text is approaching the picture and the musical "score" thus transcending the borders of music and pictorial and fine arts.

Sound poems: Hugo Ball

The dadaist poet Hugo Ball knew the first examples of the tavole parolibere of the Italian futurists. Yet the "typographic revolution" was not reflected in his poems. On July 23, 1916 he recited for the first time his "Karawane" (Caravan), also called "Elefantenkarawane" (Elephant Caravan), together with other sound poems in the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. The different written versions of this sound poem were only authorized in the typescript, which is included in the manuscript edition of the Gesammelte Gedichte (Collected Poems),2 whereas Ball didn't authorize the two "extra" elaborated versions of this poem for the publication in the Dada-Almanach planned by Kurt Wolff and in the Dada-Almanach edited by Richard Huelsenbeck and published by Erich Reiss, Berlin, in 1920.3

The visual version of the sound poem "Karawane" (figure i) is characterized by its headline, which seems to be in motion, and the use of different types of writing in the seventeen lines of the text. …

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