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June 5th, 2013 / 2:51 am
Craft Notes & Word Spaces

WORDS IN REVERSE

St.-Jonah-the-Prophet

THE ORAL MODE of composition — underused, perhaps kept hidden — where was it we found it first?

I myself am Native Appalachian, and so you figure there’s that: the whole history of telling & singing murder ballad news carried over from wherever the fuck the muddy blood sprang over from from Europe, the campfire & the kitchen table, raconteur tall tales, et cetera.

I have, I’m told, a gift as an orator, as a storyteller. People sometimes say to me they say, Garett you should write how you talk. I say, No thanks. Those things are different.

There’s a load they tell you in the stone age classes about show-don’t-tell, tho telling stories is always the most important aspect stressed by those classes as such, no matter how much the general public appreciates an image.

A story paraphrased or
condensed unwritten divorced
from the page becomes a kind of fable.

Speech, however, has properties wholly apart from poem- or storycraft. Speech possesses aspects of musicality that cannot exist on the page. The musicality of written or typed text is closer to a form of notation toward that musicality, and in its own right holds potential for a variety of readings and tones.

Speech is sound and so primal. We understand vocal detonation, whether it’s linguistic or otherwise.

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TapeRecording1958

How about, then,
extemporaneous composition?

One might improvise an audio document,
subsequently commit it to text– or not.

I recently revisited some tracks off Jandek’s album, WORTHLESS RECLUSE, which is one of three albums he recorded featuring no instrumental accompaniment whatsoever. It is, I think, one of the great unsung (or half-sung) achievements of the ‘spoken word’ / text-sound world.

Although there are lyrics available to read online, one can’t say for sure if any were written in advance. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, as the recordings themselves are wholly unique in their use of intonation, silence, delivery, et al.

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The great master of speech-music craftsmanship, however, is unquestionably Robert Ashley, whose first major work, PERFECT LIVES, had its libretto reissued by Dalkey Archive in 2011. I’ve read it three times in four years, the text being capable of standing alone, epic poem, separate from the musical compositions or its realization as an “opera for television”.

My understanding is that Ashley, convinced he had a kind of minor Tourette’s, began putting himself in a room and talking as a means of generating material. PERFECT LIVES was the result. The first opera, I might add, in a very long career as an avant-garde composer and, from what I can gather, a really swell guy.

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I’m convinced far more possibilities exist in the transposition of speech-to-text or vice versa than have been explored or made popular.

One could, for example, release an audiobook as the first and only edition of a work.

Spontaneity of speech was definitely involved in the writing of Hunter Thompson or William Burroughs, and I’m sure there must be others.

Those others, even, could start right now.

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