Talking with Anna J

Thursday, 21 May, 2015

Nikki, Anna and I meet at the British Library. It’s been a while since the three of us have met face to face. It’s been almost a year and a half since we met Anna. We discuss how each of us envisions her own role in this project.

Anna says that she is interested in how the computer would function in creating music for the project. She believes that in order for Nikki to dance, she will need a continuous pulse or beat, and she believes she can take the timbre/pitch of the spoken poetry and turn that into a pulsing sound through digital manipulation.

Nikki talks a bit about her conversation with British poet and jazz pianist Roy Fisher, in which they talked about elements that were relevant to the paper she delivered in Belgium in April. Fisher was amused by the idea of mixing poetry and jazz. He talked about the 1950s practice of mixing the two, which he says never worked, really. That the two forms – poetry and jazz music – never jelled in performance. Nikki thought part of the problem with combining jazz and poetry might be the inability of the reading voice to sustain sound, a vowel or a consonant. That is, I suppose, the greatest difference between speaking, or reciting, and singing. Singing is about sustaining pitches and varying the length of that sustained sound, even when the sound is decorated as in bel canto singing.

I remember seeing films of Jack Kerouac reading to Steve Allen improvising on the piano ( I also remember a record that my brother had when I was a kid that mixed jazz music and poetry. I do remember it as being odd, but fascinating at the same time.

Nikki also talks a bit about prose poetry versus poetry. Prose poetry she remarks always refers to a larger story, though it is not always necessary to have all of the story available to the reader/ listener. There are other devices that make the entire story clear as a background without it being concretised. She also talks about rhythmic repetition, like that found in the Bible. Phrases such as “He went out into the garden/ Out into the garden he went etc. (She discusses this in detail in her book Such Rare Citings.)

Anna points out that silence becomes the “phrase boundary”. She envisions the layering of phrases with sounds and words coming in and out of audibility.

One of the issues of performing together, especially improvisationally, will be cues: how for example would Nikki signal that she is happy or unhappy with the direction of the music or the spoken voice in performance. Anna suggests the possibility of a haptic device, such as a doorway. On one side of the doorway, she would be inside the action of the performance, grooving with the voice and the music, and on the other side of the doorway, she would be outside the action. I imagine this as a real doorway, or the frame of a doorway, on a stage. What is inside; what is outside, Nikki adds, and the question, How lawless am I going to be?

Anna comments that musicians use the smallest of peripheral cues to stay in sync. And that usually it is the horn player who can cue the other instrumentalists because his hands are free. Guitarists use the nod of a head.

We also talk a bit about the visualization of the computer’s coding. Rather than doing live coding, a parody of coding could be developed that is more accessible and humorous while using all the techniques of live coding. This idea brings up the question: Does the computer need to be obedient?

One thought on “Talking with Anna J

  1. While searching for the Jack Kerouac Steve Allen video, I found a series of videos posted by Aficionado Joe. These excellently produced videos use Kerouac’s readings as voice-overs to jazz music and stylish stills. They well capture the mood and moment of the genre. Here is a selection:
    Kerouac’s “Beat”
    “The Ocean”

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