The piece was devised by listening to radio news broadcasts and notating the intakes of breath made by the news readers, using key utterances as exhales. The piece explores exhaustion and expenditure in the voice, translations of speech into song, and the constant pulse of news words.
“For The Year of Creative Scotland 2012, StAnza has commissioned the English sound poet and artist Holly Pester, known for her ‘news breath’ sound pieces, to use recent news items to create for the festival an original composition which, along with other works, will offer chance encounters with text and voice in unexpected nooks and corners around town.”
Saturday 11th February, 3pm
Holly Pester in response to the poetics of Lygia Pape
“Every Saturday the Serpentine Gallery hosts talks and seminars for the public. This winter prominent artists, poets, curators and academics discuss themes connected to the Lygia Pape exhibition and the Neo-Concrete movement.”
The below sound poems were made in response to Lygia Pape’s woodcuts and neo-concrete poetry. The series was made for a presentation at the Serpentine Gallery, 11th February 2012. All pieces are anagrams of the word ‘Disentangled’ from Pape’s poem Boca a Boca.
The song takes the structure of several types of sea shanty, ranging from long voyage verses, to short haul call-and-response chants, to landing songs. These structures were tracked onto the route map of the Apollo 11 lunar landings.
At the conception of this project Kaye and Pester created a system of exchange and translation, developing shared concerns for chance operations, periphery speech sounds and the thrill of live performance. By trading sound, text and image material, they allowed the piece to workshop itself out of their (re)interpretation and (mis)translation. Kaye and Pester have engendered not only a musical score, but a hypertextual network of graphic notation, sound poetics and a prolific collaborative partnership.
The piece works as a triptych, with each instant both setting Pester’s text and also conceptually representing each visual poem. The piece is also interspersed with rhythmic interludes.
Percussion 1 – Catherine Ring
Percussion 2 – Louise Morgan
To begin our collaboration Josh and I exchanged compilation CDs with recordings that we felt represented or at least indicated the direction of our practices/interests. My CD for Josh was a mix of sound poetry excerpts from Henri Chopin and Bob Cobbing, some experimental vocal tracks by heavy metal musician Mike Patton, a few songs from Bjork’s ‘Medulla’ album and some Mongolian throat singing. (And some pretty incredible Michael Jackson acapella!) Things that I like, listen to, make me think about the voice and the concept of singing.
Josh passed on to me an alien world of contemporary opera, some of his own piano pieces and pieces for many voices, plus a welcome reminder of The Velvet Underground’s ‘The Murder Mystery’. What did they tell me about Josh? That he likes inter-sections of voice and percussion; rhythmic, polyphonic vocal sounds.
After this we talked over our listening experiences and went to see as many exhibition, event and performances as we could, trying to build or uncover a common language. It became clear that neither of us were interested in the conventional poet-composer partnership, i.e. having me compose a text, hand it over to Josh and then have him set it to music. We wanted a collaboration that involved a continuous workshop and thought laboratory, that pushed both our practices forward, and gave away our personal artistic temperaments.
More than this, we wanted the piece to perform the exciting collision of text and music that was occurring in our dialogue.
We started by making a small collection of vocal noise. I recorded some ‘para-speech’ noises (erming, ahring, coughing, spluttering, laughing etc.) and Josh produced some piano bits and some of his own throat singing. Josh set this using some sound editing software and passed it back to me. I took this newly constructed sound piece and visually translated it into a sequence of typewriter poems. I passed these back to Josh who translated these as graphic notation, unpicking the flat plane of paper and creating a dimensionality that I found very exciting.
And this was how the process continued, passing back and forth sound, to image to composition.
Eventually I narrowed down the sources for my noise-making to YouTube footage of Barack Obama interviews, extracting those wonderful, distinctively pitched, vocal controllers he makes when pausing between words. I collected these, mimicked them and recorded them. I then juxtaposed this recording with impressions of talking pet birds (also sourced from YouTube). These sounds were arranged into the sound piece ‘bird interview’ which informed the body of much of the final piece:
This suited our mutual creative interests in interviews, periphery speech expenditure and procedure-led art-making. It was also inevitable given my current fixation with the phenomenal sound of Obama’s voice.
While much of the material was still in fragments; typewriter poems, sound texts and annotated scores, we met with our singer, Alex and began testing some of the vocal sequences Josh had devised. During one of these rehearsal sessions I transcribed some conversations between Josh and Alex, discussing the technicalities of singing the score. These transcriptions were worked into another poem that was spliced into the interventional sections before each miniature.
I was continually excited by the way Josh interpreted the material we had workshopped out between us. One of the typewriter poems I gave him had solid squares of letters, which Josh – through the indetermination of graphic notation – devised into a game for percussionists. This is ‘played’ in the final miniature where Louise and Catherine race to get to a certain note in the grid. Because of this each performance, although structurally identical, has an inbuilt facilitator for different versions. Both Josh and I place a great deal of value on the alchemic moment of live performance and were eager to make sure that there was something deliberate that ensured each time would be different.
The female percussionists work together regularly as a duo and had a wonderful energy between them. Josh’s vision for Alex’s vocals to be constantly struggling to break through the drumming was almost too successful. They embraced the vocal interjections Josh had written for them with a thrilling vivacity. Overall the performic dynamic between the trio for the final performance made it something of a visual and sonic spectacle.