Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spoken word in music

Spoken word is tough to pull off. I've never liked any of the Def poetry jam things. Sometimes you catch a spoken word track here or there on an album of your favorite artist, like it's old news now that Kanye West used a part of Gil Scott-Heron's Who will survive in America on his last album. So sometimes you catch a sprinkling of it around. I would say that most people don't care for it. Just a guess. Not sure why. It's sort of tough to do it well. Usually background music helps.

In a few days I'll put up a spoken word I created recently using the fabulous ATT Voice synthesizer that I love so much and an instrumental electronic track by Fennesz. I don't expect anyone to love it. But it's something different. And that's later anyway.

For now, a couple of tracks with spoken word that I think work. I'll start with this one. It's by the electronic artist Loscil and it's called the Making of Grief Point. Loscil is Scott Morgan. The voice is Dan Bejar from the band Destroyer. Probably because Scott also plays drums in that band.

Video link:

I don't know really why I'm doing this. People ask Why don't people read poetry? But what they're really asking is Why aren't people buying books of poetry? Because artful writing is everywhere, and you can catch it if you're looking for it. You just don't call it poetry. You call it lyrics or you call it screenwriting. It doesn't really matter what you call it. It certainly doesn't matter to the person who wrote it. So I guess that's what this post is about. How occasionally musicians gray the line between reading and singing, books and music. Because that's what spoken word sort of sounds like.

Hope you enjoy this one. Later I'll put up more. If you know of some good ones, let me know.

Lyrics to the video thanks to Songmeanings.net:
The journal starts late: six weeks into the making of "Grief Point," first off as "May Day," a song in honor of May 1st and the workers. Can you still be against the strike that only strikes for more pay? By "you," in this instance, I mean "me."

There is a certain kind of person to whom things come with great facility. They say this is the noise that gets made as my life is lived. So be it. But don't feel the need to record it. For a second I thought that this meant that they were not interested in history. But that's... wrong. Wrong, wrong. A bad reading of the situation. The right reading is that I just don't understand it. At all.

Grief Point — and "May Day," by extension — suffers from the same old shit. A potential, complete ignorance of ambience, real ambience, in that: Can you really construct it, every last bit of it, and just let the listener feel its effects? And is this the right treatment? Always the same question. In this case I would maybe say yes, just because it forces form onto the thing, "thing" as a bunch of words, two melodies, and the words sung in a handful of ways. Between J____ and D____, of course, the same old war rages: one into a tight and perfect digital palace, but super true to the genre; the other, wanting to draw on actual sounds, mix it up, humanize.

It's cool how for my part, this sleight of hand, the trick of making something confounding and great and potentially horrible, drawn up from air: all this is no longer of any interest. In fact, even seeing things in this light depresses me. And so I often come home at night depressed by what we have done, what we are doing. It's good. It means I've changed.

I have lost interest in music. It is horrible.

I should only make things I understand. I should only make things I know how to construct, however imperfect. It's not even like dictating to someone. It's less than that.

"May Day" itself is pretty cool, I have to admit. It condemns the world at such an easy pace. I intend to tell T____ it is like a happy "Shooting Rockets," a disgusting description of anything, to be sure. I think the world does not like me grim. It likes me melancholic, but not miserable. English on the Mediterranean, which is oddly enough some of the worst people there is.

At some point, when it is made, I will explain this record, word for word, swear to God. An ape with angel glands: when I know if it is good or bad, I will know what is good, and what is bad.

The answer to the making of "Grief Point" is picnic baskets, filled with blood.

Too rich, nothing at stake.

If ______ had to write lyrics for his songs, they would be cumbersome, pale blocks, like his riffs, but pale. So instead he went out and found a whaler, too stupid to commit to a single thing.

I assume not lighting up at the sight of your mother as a sign of madness in an infant. Patina, no name for a baby. Your firstborn, before they threw you from the bridge.

Bagna wrestles his dogs to the floor. Such a beautiful scene for some. They write plays, don't perform them.

The message from the critical reception of Dreams was quite clear: we will not be listening to you any further. Of course some tension is created. Cosmonaut in a bread line, et cetera.

I watched a pig devour the classics just to get to you. The barge endlessly circling, your mind finds out. It is done.


  1. I stumbled across your blog from expats.cz* and just wanted to say I agree so much with the point about "why don't people read poetry anymore?"

    People do listen to songs. And now just pop songs with dumb lyrics, but stuff that really is poetry. Lately I've been into Genevieve Maynard and the spoken words and typewriter sounds in the background of Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks. I also like Loscil.

    I used to be the type of person who would get defensive and guilty when people would ask, "why don't people read poetry anymore?" Because I am proud, you see. I think of myself as a Literary Person. But, truth me told, I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for five straight years and never went inside the famous, financially-struggling Grolier Poetry Shop. Why not?

    Because so little poetry is good, and because I don't have the time to wade through all that isn't. I'm not trying to be mean. In fact, what I mean is, I respect poetry a whole lot. Writing a poem that stands on its own on the page looks like the easiest thing and is really the most difficult. I don't claim to have done it. I will secretly admit that I don't read my friends' poetry, even the friends who are "good" poets, the ones who got into top MFA programs, etc. And I don't mean to insult them, either, because I'm lumping them in with a lot of really well-regarded people, from Byron to Bukowski. No, in my opinion, I've only seen about four people who wrote good poems. Robert Hass ("Meditation at Lagunitas"); he's also a translator of Czeslaw Milosz—another member of this list, Andrew Hudgins ("Praying Drunk"), and Kafka (if you count the aphorisms as sort of poetry).

    On the other hand, poetry is in many places, as you said. I saw lines from Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens in an art exhibition by Roni Horn and it was like they had been given entirely new life.

    As for me, I stopped writing poetry. I don't know if that's the right answer, either. But I took the last poem I tried to write and deleted all the line breaks: http://svatava.tumblr.com/post/8647857992/three-ways-of-looking-at-a-falling-bird.

    *I'm not an expat yet, but I will be in about a month. Nikdy necestovala jsem do ČR, a mluvím česky dnes moc špatně. Můj důvod, samozřejmě, je o literaturou. Some thoughts on making a "blind move" here: http://svatava.tumblr.com/post/8644721155/a-conspiracy-of-cartographers.

  2. hi svatava, thank you so much for commenting. It's great to talk. I've never heard of Genevieve Maynard or Max Richter. I'll check youtube.

    you're right that so little of it is good. but there's so much music to wade through too. so much painting and other stuff. I tend to read music sites to get tips. or recommendations from friends. re: poetry, I hate open mic things and readings and that sort of thing. I've picked up a few of those Best American Poetry collections and they've been pretty good. But you're right. On your own it's impossible to wade through all of it, and there aren't too many known places that make it interesting to discover new good stuff like there are for other arts. Generally I don't read much by any living poets. Kind of a bummer.

    Yeah. I sort of think that a poem sitting typed on a screen or page nowadays is going to reach almost no one, even if it's great. Why? Who knows. For some reason it's not the way anymore. But I think there's an opportunity today to do things with writing we've never seen. We know that people love poetic words and lines (not too many at a time though). We know that people love art, and music and movies. We know that people love stories. I think poets have to think about using other ways of communicating than just making books. They have to think about actually engaging and entertaining the reader. Maybe that's most important of all. So maybe one day we'll see a poet who tweets a single engaging line, and readers who follow the progression that way. Could that be poetry? could be. I don't know.

    that's cool about that exhibition. after something like that, people might want to read more by the authors. it feels like that's sort of where we are as far as engaging readers with poetry these days. sort of a sneak attack. Like Ha! you've just read poetry. sucker.

    anyway, prague is nice and warm today. boats all out on the river. cafes brimming. what brings you to the golden city?

  3. I'm glad I'm not the only writer who dislikes open mics/readings. Especially open-mic poetry...there's usually something so unsubtle and in-your-face about the style. It manages to be wrist-cutting and self-promotional at the same time. I really like seeing plays, though, or even just seeing readings of plays.

    As for what brings me to Prague, a fascination with Czech literature and history, and the lure of the film school (I'm planning to apply to MFA programs in scriptwriting in a few years). I'm working on my portfolio, and I want a good place to write. Of course, a fancy location doesn't make creativity, but if you have the freedom to choose, why not choose somewhere nice?

    Actually, I'll be in Brno studying Czech language, but I hope to move to Prague at some point later. What brings you there?

  4. yeah. I don't know why those readings come off so horribly. something unnatural and uncomfortable about it.

    Film is a huge thing over here. Not only do tons of international films get made here, there are so many film festivals it's nuts. They even have student film festivals. Probably in Brno too. That's one thing you gotta love about Europe.

    Fancy locations always helped me, and from here you'll have a chance to see all sorts of cities that are nearby (berlin, munich, vienna, venice, bratislava, etc.). I came here originally out of a love for travel and art. Europe is something special. I knew I could find a job doing whatever. I chose Prague because it's right in the middle of everything geographically. So I live and work here. I've seen a ton of this country and of the others around. I love Germany, Holland, Italy. Gotta see those places if you have the chance. My dream is just to write books of poetry, paint pictures, see art, work on the site, and live sort of simply that way. But I also have a job here that pays the bills, which is necessary of course.

    Right, so anyway, enough about me. If you ever want to write about writing or whatever on my site, I'd love to have you as a Guest blogger. Hope you keep up the writing.