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An Interview with Salome Voegelin

Salomé Voegelin is an artist and writer engaged in listening and hearing as a socio-political practice of sound. She is the author of Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art (Continuum, 2010). Other recent writings include a chapter in the The Multisensory Museum Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Touch, Sound, Smell, Memory, and Space (Alta Mira Press, 2014), ‘Ethics of Listening’ in the Journal of Sonic Studies 2 (2012), and ‘Listening to the Stars’ in What Matters Now? (What Can’t You Hear?) (Noch Publishing, 2013). Her essay ‘Sonic Possible Worlds’ is part of the Sound Arts issue of Leonardo Music Journal 23 (December 2013), and her second book Sonic Possible Worlds: Hearing the Continuum of Sound will be published by Bloomsbury in June 2014. Voegelin is a Reader in Sound Arts at the London College of Communication, UAL. She has a PhD from Goldsmiths College, London University.

Listen to Salome’s recordings for the Archive here.

How did it feel performing your work in the anechoic chamber?

SV: It was really interesting, because when you come in, your first impression is not only that it’s an anechoic chamber but also that it’s quite a small room, and reading or talking to somebody in this intimate, airtight space, puts a very particular stress on how you read. Also knowing that there was a certain time limit affected my reading. So it was these pressures or limitations that I felt first and then settling in I started to really like the sound, the dryness of the sound – it wasn’t John Cage’s hyperbole about the nervous system that I could hear, it was much more simply a sense of airlessness and lack of space and the clippedness of sounds in extreme dryness that you don’t get anywhere else – it was very particular. And I think it made me read very particularly – I hope not too monotonously – but it certainly affects how one performs any writing, and I think it adds a layer of acute self-consciousness.

In that sense, does your sonic environment always influence your performance to some extent, and in what ways do different, louder environments affect you?

SV: I haven’t performed my own work very often. I write and then perform it in the editing process to myself. I read aloud to myself and that is a very important part of my editing process. But I’ve only recently really started to make the performance of my work more central to my practice, and performing my work I also start to write differently. I’ve noticed on a few occasions, at things like PolyPly, where I’ve been invited to read certain things aloud, that that creates a challenge to write something to be read aloud. So it’s like a cycle, where one process triggers another, and I find that extremely challenging and exciting. I found today very stimulating, because, well, firstly it is a privilege, obviously, to have your own work recorded, but also because you placed me in a very particular environment, within this anechoic chamber, for a very specific moment of time. This specificity made me rethink what the words I normally put on a page mean, and how they come from sounds, because my words come from [listening to] sound, so the way they are re-sounded in a public or shared space is, at this moment, a very interesting process for me.

Do you think of yourself as a poet? I know you’ve performed at events like PolyPly, and perhaps share some similarities in outlook with contemporary sound poets, so how do you find yourself relating to the world of poetry?

SV: I am intrigued by poetry, my current favourite is Edith Södergran, a Swedish-Finnish-Russian poet from the beginning of the twentieth century, but I’ve never thought of myself as a poet. I think of myself as a composer and writer, but I suppose you put those two things together and you compose words, and to an extent I think you become a poet. I think I’ve moved more into poetry since having opportunities to perform readings and taking my texts to spaces, so time-frames and rhythms become part of my writing. I do like more theoretical approaches to poetry too. For example I’m very fond of Julia Kristeva’s idea of a revolution in poetic language. The idea, not of poetry but of the poetic, I think, has always been in my composition and sonic practice as well as in my written practice, as an anarchic, as a phenomenological, experiential element. And although I have never described myself as a poet I like the processes and concepts of poetry to be within my work.

An extensive focus on sound in aesthetic practice is often considered inherently avant-garde or experimental. This seems to be particularly the case with poetry, thinking of Dada sound poets like Hugo Ball to contemporary figures in the Archive of the now like Caroline Bergvall or Holly Pester. Why do you think this is, given the very traditional understanding of poetry as an aural practice?

SV: What I’ve found in my own practice of working with sound and words is that we would probably be much happier if we accepted that 90% of the time we don’t understand each other and then there are these moments of coincidence, these exceptions when we do understand each other, and would try to work backwards:. starting with poetry, starting with what one may call experimental but what I would maybe rather call experiential, phenomenological, rather than semiotic words. Then people like the poets you mention, for example, would move more into the mainstream, not in a populist sense, but in the sense that we would have an access to them through our own sense of the inaccessibility of language, its misunderstandings. But I think this sort of engagement gets pushed to the side as something difficult, hence the terms avant-garde and experimental. I think there is something inherently difficult about poetry, particularly spoken poetry, something that people find icky. And I use the word ‘icky’ quite decidedly, because I think it’s almost bodily, using this daily material of words to rephrase them, reframe them, un-frame them, de-frame them, and then deform them, or reform them into something formless and difficult to grab hold of. I think people actually find it very uncomfortable and maybe that’s where its got something in common with what might be called experimental music – I would rather call it sound art – people’s self-consciousness is so great that they begin to feel physically uncomfortable and push works away and think ‘oh that’s avant-garde’.

The Archive of the Now is a database specifically for recordings of poetry. What do you think can be gained from the fact that this encourages close listening, as opposed to close reading?

SV: I think it’s really important, because when you listen to the Archive of the Now, you listen to somebody else’s voice, and these voices, these breaths, these mouths and tongues go straight into your ear, and obviously that can amplify the discomfort we might feel with these often nonsensical words. Whereas with poetry that’s written down, there is a visual distance, a detachment possible. There is a gap where you can feel not quite so physically and bodily involved. So I think its very exciting that it is recorded, it also means that the time we have to record, becomes the time of the listener also, and we start to share something; we start to share the same anxieties around time and bodies, and co-listening and listening alone. I think to throw people into the experience and make them listen and engage in the demands of the spoken, the sonic and the temporal is really very important.

Perhaps counter to that last question, then, I’m interested in the way you translate very ephemeral, subjective experiences of listening into writing. What happens in this process, and do you think anything is lost through it?

SV: What is lost, and what I would say is never there in my writing, is the moment of my listening, because listening is inherently ephemeral and passing. I think that is its strength, and is the intrigue of sound. Even if technologically repeatable, it is not experientially repeatable: every listening is this new moment, this new aesthetic moment of engagement, and this is exactly what I find so particular. There can’t even be the pretence of looking at it again, it is always looking at it anew, so the refrain becomes not again and again, but anew and anew. To write about sound might seem to pretend a holding on to, a framing or a stoppage, but it isn’t, because, while I appreciate that my moment of listening is gone, it opens up other moments of hearing: for the readers to hear their environments at the moment of reading, and to expand that consciousness to other moments, and so to experience the world in terms of temporary moments of listening. This sonic sensibility of course has to meet language, because otherwise it becomes very solipsistic. If we just said ‘listen to the moment’ in a meditative way, that can be interesting, but I am not solipsistic enough to feel satisfied by this. Instead I’m interested in creating points of access, portals, which we produce in language, and through which we can at least try to find moments of coincidence for exchange and communication.

Can you say more about the idea behind your ‘Soundwords’ blog?

SV: I started Soundwords after I’d finished Listening to Noise and Silence. Writing a book has its own temporal demands, it takes quite a long time to go through all the processes until it lives and can be read by other people. What fascinated me about writing a blog was that it was instantaneous; that I could have a sonic experience, and could try to grapple with words to make it tangible, accessible for other people, or rather to make their own moments of listening accessible to themselves. There was a seeming instantaneity about it, and the ease between my hearing and writing and your reading and listening is what fascinated me. I am still writing this blog now, four years on, maybe not as religiously and often as I’d like it to but it’s still a real moment of engagement because I also immediately imagine other listeners when I write, so it seems very reciprocal.

I get the feeling reading your book Listening to Noise and Silence that your phenomenological approach is often accessed in an unorthodox way, through a creative and poetic descriptive psychology. How do you feel your theoretical work relates to your creative practice?

SV: Maybe if I just quickly go through the first part of your question about the sort of psychological, phenomenological approach. I think as much as I feel that as an artist I can play with what composition is, and I can play with what poetry is – as I said previously, I’m an artist who sometimes does poetry, and who sometimes does different things. In the same way, there is a certain freedom for me to do philosophy, and use phenomenology, among other philosophical methods, in a slightly unorthodox way, maybe in an upside down way, in a useful way for me. And I think you’re quite right to point out that mine is a sort of psychological phenomenology, hence also my preference for Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose phenomenology relates to psychology, rather than for example, Husserl, whose phenomenology was influenced by mathematics, a mathematical sense and rationality of perception, whereas for Merleau-Ponty there is nonsense, there is sensate sense, there is doubt and the uncontrollable, and I feel that really gives me the tools to write about sound. And here I come to the second part of your question about how my writing relates to my practice. My creative practice is a compositional practice, in that I compose sound works on my own and in collaboration, and I also see writing as part of this practice. And having these theoretical approaches that are, for me, open enough, but have a certain ground, I feel I can use them to be in communication without stifling the material expression of my work. Because there is of course a desire to communicate the heard, and so for me phenomenology, and, more recently logic has been very useful to theorise without arresting the process of making work.

Talking about logic, your forthcoming book is an approach to sound through the concept of possible worlds and set theory. Could you maybe explain what led you to this, and how it may be affecting your creative output?

SV: Yes, my next book is called Sonic Possible Worlds: Hearing the Continuum of Sound, and if I can plug it here, it’s going to come out in June this year (2014). My last book, Listening to Noise and Silence, ends with a chapter called Now that is all about the constant ‘now’ of sound, and about where this sonic now meets memory in present perception. And somehow, the whole book, it seems to me now, reflecting on it after its publication, is somehow about accessing an other layer of the world – the world built by Tarkovsky’s refrain and evoked through a Bergsonian sense of memory in sound. We listen out for sounds of cars, of loudspeakers, of announcements and of language, because obviously these sounds are vital signifiers, related to our daily lives and survival. But there are other signifiers, relationships and materialities, at least potentially accessible through a sonic sensibility, that could provide a whole other sense of the world. And that led me to use the idea of possible worlds in my next book, and sparked my intrigue with possible world theory. Within that philosophy there are some unorthodox characters, like David K. Lewis, for whom every world that is possible is an actual world for somebody. That sort of thought really comes together with my idea that, more often than not, we misunderstand each other and only in moments of coincidence do we understand each other that I mentioned earlier. Since your world is your actual world because it is possible for you, and there are some aspects of your world that are completely impossible for me, completely inaccessible to me and do not hold up for me. In turn there are some worlds that are possible for me only, like the way my actual world is possible for me because it’s accessible to me and I inhabit it. Lewis talks about how inhabiting the world is what makes it real to you, and of course, he still says so as a logician, where its not about the “really” real world, but about the world of language and thought. But through marrying his radical realist conception of possible worlds with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological lifeworlds, I come to possible lifeworlds and of course, I had already talked of sonic lifeworlds, and now they become sonic possible lifeworlds, and this opened up new possibilities about how we inhabit the soundscape, and how it becomes possible as an actuality and thus how other worlds, as other possibilities of this world, become accessible through sound also.

So on the one hand there is an aesthetic dialogue to be had about artworks and how we can access them through possible world theory married with phenomenology, but there are also real political and social implications in a conceptual sonic possible lifeworld. It makes accessible, as in thinkable, all the works, languages, people, cultures and traditions that are excluded from or at the margins of our so called ‘actual’ world, representing at best an inferior possibility. A sonic sensibility provides different access to those possibilities that we even sometimes declare as impossibilities, and that remain inaudible not because they do not sound but because for ideological, social or political or even aesthetic reasons we cannot hear them and thus we grant them no actuality. In this sense  listening and sound, conceptual and actual, become tools to access the as yet inaudible, the possible impossible, to make the sounding but unheard take part in the configuration of actual reality.

Welcome to the relaunched Archive of the Now!

Welcome to the relaunched Archive of the Now!

Over the past few months, the Archive has been completely redesigned.  We hope you’ll enjoy the richer content on the Author index pages, which allows you to sample a bit of poetry before you listen.  We’ve also added a page of Responses, where you can see what people have been saying about the Archive, including a survey of contributors and the essays by our Poet-in-Residence, Sophie Mayer.  Sophie’s essays are a good way to start navigating the Archive if you’ve never been here before.  We’ve also updated our Links page – please send us your own links to add here using the Contact Us form.  And you can use the Recent Additions page to see who’s new at the Archive.

To celebrate our relaunch, we’re very excited to announce new readings by Richard Barrett, Elisabeth Bletsoe, Jason Camlot, cris cheek, Sarah Crewe, Fiona Curran, Tom Jenks, and Sandeep Parmar.

We’re also looking forward to the first of our secondary school workshops, which Sophie will be leading at QMUL on Wednesday 6 November.  This workshop has proved immensely popular and was fully booked within a few hours, so we’ve added another date in November, and further workshops will take place in January.  We’re also planning a big surprise event to celebrate Sophie’s residency and involving all the students – more information on that will follow.

Sophie and Andrea are also leading a project, funded by the Innovation Fund at QMUL, to research metadata protocols for digital archives.  We have assembled a working group of postgraduate students and are thinking about how other digital archives catalogue and tag their assets.  We hope to be able to publish our findings and help to establish some standards for digital archiving, as well as to create a detailed database for the Archive which will allow you to play with our collection in new ways, using playlists, mixing tools, and apps.  We’ll update you on our progress over the next six months.

We are also in the process of recruiting undergraduate interns, who will help to enter data into that database, as well as take charge of contacting poets, making new recordings, and editing sound files.  The good people at the Centre for Digital Music are going to give us access to their sound studios so we can improve the quality of our recordings.  Against a background of record youth unemployment and spiralling student debt, we’re also aware that young people need extra support to get their careers going.  We will provide lots of training to our interns, so that they can help develop transferrable skills which will help them when they are job hunting.

We’re also preparing for a visit from Christina Davis in the spring, to lead a workshop with QMUL’s own undergraduates on poetry and performance.  Christina is Curator at the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University’s Lamont Library and we’re looking forward to collaborating with her in the future.

So, there has been a great deal going on behind the scenes at the Archive. As always we welcome your feedback.  Please get in touch to let us know what you think of the new site and what you’d like the Archive to do in future.  Thanks for listening.

Andrea Brady

Director, Archive of the Now

Year 13 Poetry Workshops with Archive Poet-in-Residence Sophie Mayer

http://www.qmul.ac.uk/undergraduate/schools/docs/OnQ/114498.pdf

The Archive and the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary are hosting two poetry and performance workshops in November for year 13 students.

These workshop will be led by poet-in-residence and lecturer Sophie Mayer and will use familiar new media to engage students with excitingly unfamiliar poetry. Through the twists and turns of listening to the Archive, students will hear how poetry makes things new, and by hearing the variety of language use and ideas, they will grow in confidence in asking questions of literary texts and learn new strategies for answering them. This will be an exciting and fun introduction to poetry that will enhance students’ understanding of the curriculum. Students don’t need to be English literature specialists but some interest in poetry would be beneficial.

The workshop on Wednesday 6 November from 3-5pm is now fully booked but there is space available in the workshop for 23 November 3-5pm.

For more information contact Dr Andrea Brady at a.brady@qmul.ac.uk.

To book a place, please go to:

9 January 2014: workshop for year 11 students ONLY: book at http://aon091.eventbrite.co.uk/

23 January 2014: workshop for Year 12 students ONLY: book at https://aon231.eventbrite.co.uk.

 

New recordings by James Byrne, Justin Katko, and Samantha Walton

Now added: new readings by James ByrneJustin Katko and Samantha Walton.

James Byrne is a British poet and Editor of The Wolf magazine whose collections include Blood/Sugar (2009).  His poetry has been translated into several languages, and he has performed in Syria and Serbia, among other places.

Samantha Walton has lived in Edinburgh and London, and in 2012 completed a PhD on psychology, law and selfhood in inter-war women’s writing. In 2011 she co-organised an experimental poetry conference and festival – ConVersify – at the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Poetry Library.  Her publications include the duplicate book (2012), City Breaks Weekend Songs (2011) and tristanundisolde (2010).

New recordings from Brighton

Following an impromptu poetry festival at 73 Cobden Road, Brighton, the Archive is pleased to present readings by:

  • Alan Hay
  • Ed Luker
  • Joe Luna runs the Hi Zero reading series and edits Hi Zero magazine.  Crater Press published the letterpress fold Google Song in 2011; a new book, ASTROTURF, is forthcoming.
  • Verity Spott is a musician who runs regular music and poetry events including Horseplay and DYMI/DYMX/DYMII/PW4 as well as the Iodine poetry press. Verity is one half of the infamous Binnsclagg noise/poetry duo; collaborations include works with Christopher Buckley, Francis Crot and Timothy Thornton. Poetry publications include a figurative ‘translation’ of ‘the’ Iliad.
  • Keston Sutherland teaches at the University of  Sussex and is co-editor of Barque Press. He has been heard just about live in  London, Cambridge, Brighton, Bolton, Paris, Val de Marne, Marseille, New  York, Boston, Mainz, Edenkoben, Guangzhou.
  • Timothy Thornton

 

NEWS: POET-IN-RESIDENCE

The Archive seeks to appoint a Poet in Residence.  This residency will be virtual, within the Archive, rather than based at the University.  Its value is £3,600 for a twelve-month period starting on 1 May 2013.

This residency has the following four aims:

  • To explore the creative and critical implications of performance, recording and digital dissemination of poetry.
  • To investigate the characteristics of performance and the transition between page and voice which emerge in the Archive’s collection of recordings.
  • To produce materials which allow users to engage with the Archive in new ways.
  • To develop students’ understanding of the relations between text, performance, and digital publication.

The Poet in Residence will be asked to produce a monthly response to the Archive (twelve responses in total).  These responses, which may include (but are not limited to) new work (written, audio or video), a short commentary on one of the recordings, a set of questions or reflections on digital writing, an essay or podcast, etc., will be published on the Archive website.

In addition, the Poet in Residence will be asked to lead three workshops over the course of the residency for students in secondary schools and sixth-form colleges.  The design and planning of these workshops will be the responsibility of the Poet, but the workshops should involve students thinking about the relation between poetry and performance by creating a new text and conducting performance experiments.  Finished student contributions will be hosted on the Archive in a special ‘emerging writers’ portal.  Enrolment in the workshops will be facilitated by the Education Liaison and Widening Participation Office at QMUL, and attendance will be capped at 30 each.  The workshops will be held at QMUL.  A per diem to cover expenses, travel within the UK and accommodation in Londonwill be provided to the Poet in Residence.

The Residence will be managed by the Director of the Archive, Dr Andrea Brady.  She will liaise with the poet, monitor his or her contributions to the website, and set up the school workshops at times which are mutually convenient to the poet and the schools.

The Poet will be chosen by a panel including the Director of the Archive and its Advisory Board.

To apply for this Residency, please submit your CV including the names of two referees plus a short description (1500 words) of the proposed activities during the residency.

Applications should be sent as hard copies to: Dr Andrea Brady, Schoolof Englishand Drama, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London. E1 4NS.  Application enquiries should be directed to a.brady@qmul.ac.uk.

A confirmation email will be sent acknowledging receipt of all applications.  The deadline for receipt of applications is 1 December 2012.  Interviews will take place at the beginning of January.

 Valuing Diversity & Committed to Equality

An editorial on the Archive for the Poetry School

‘The Archive demonstrates that the prestige presses and predictable prizes don’t have a monopoly on publication or literary value. The UK has an old and venerable tradition of keeping its most startling, exciting and ground-breaking work on the down-low, in the little magazines and small presses, the reading series in dilapidated pubs and tiny galleries and schools and towers. Over time, these activities become central to what British poetry can be. In recognition of the importance of the public reading, which draws in new audiences and makes new poets, sharpens lines and breaks open complacencies, the Archive is soon to include recordings of important historic reading series from throughout the UK. In that way, the Archive testifies that there are other ways of being a public writer than achieving commercial success. It is one of many places held open by poetry, where we can still hear each other and ourselves.’

Read more about the Archive in an editorial by the Director at the Poetry School.