Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde ed. by Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (review)
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REVIEWS BOOKS POESIES SONORES edited by Vincent Barras and Nicholas Zurbrugg. Editions Contrechamps, 1992. ISBN 2-940068-00-3, 273 pp. Texts by Vincent Barras, Paul Zumthor, Henri Chopin, Dick Higgins, Klaus Scheming, Eugenio Miccini, Rolf Schasse, Nicholas Zurbrugg, Brion Gysin, Larry Wendt, Bernard Heidsieck, Michele Metail, Erika Tunner, Jean-Pierre Boblillot, Christian Scholz, Gerhard Rühm, Hans Rudolf Zeller, Jean-Louis Houchard, Ellen Zweig and Dieter Schnebel. Reviewed by Marc Battier, IRCAM, 31, rue Saint-Merri, F-75004 Paris, France. E-mail: . In English, the title of this book would be "Sound Poetry," but the meanings that might be associated with sound po­ etry are, in the context of this book, misleading. The term should be taken to mean, literally, poetry that expresses itself with sound—and, being contem­ porary, with sound in some technologi­ cal form: recording, amplification, ra­ dio. In this sense, it is interesting that a book on a similar topic was published recently and is reviewed here, the ex­ cellent Wireless Imagination: Sound, Ra­ dio and the Avant-Garde, edited by Dou­ glas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead. After all, the various fields addressed by these two books have not been heavily documented yet. In fact, they have hardly been recognized as artistic fields. The amount of scrutiny they are beginning to receive probably proves a point: art is looking for new forms. Ar­ tistic endeavors that have been linked to electricity and electronics seem to match the current evolution from an art embedded in objects to art that has become part of a communication pro­ cess. The fact that Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead chose the term "wireless" (taken from a line by Marinetti) further emphasizes the use of a communication medium as embed­ ded in die act of creation. Poesies Sonores is composed of 20 texts, five of them interviews with sound artists conducted by the editors. The interviews are interspersed with es­ says that deal with aesthetic and histori­ cal issues, and also address various artis­ tic activities. Where Wireless Imagination deals with exclusively aesthetic and his­ torical issues, Poesies Sonores offers a vari­ ety of approaches to essentially the same fields, encompassing presenta­ tions of radio art, sound poetry activi­ ties, audio art, etc. Perhaps the attempt to define sound poetry is merely illusory, as the notion appears far too elusive for definition. In this sense, sound poetry recalls the no­ tion of audio art discussed at length in Wireless Imagination. Some of the names usually associated with sound poetry are here: Larry Wendt, Henri Chopin, Brion Gysin, Bernard Hiedsieck. In interviews with the editors, the above figures discuss not only their specific work, but also their assessments of the field. In this re­ gard, the interview with Wendt offers a sobering perspective on the interaction between current trends and the way sound poetry is perceived. Other names extend the subject to­ wards new meanings: radio art is well represented by Klaus Schöning's text, which presents a historical account of "wireless art," and Nicholas Zurbrugg's essay. Other texts deal with the relationship between literature, music and sound. Ellen Zweig presents a Cagean text about John Cage. Also discussed are the presence—or absence—of text in audio art (Rolf Sachsse), the link to medieval poetry (Paul Zumthor) and the impact of the voice on extended vocal tech­ niques (Dieter Schnebel). Poesies Sonores is a collection of origi­ nal documents on what seems to emerge as "audio art" and "sound poetry." Wire­ less Imagination, on the other hand, is an invitation to a poeticjourney into an early-twentieth-century avant-garde that was starting to give sound a new mean­ ing. Both books are elegantly presented, and they are beautiful objects that one takes pleasure in handling. However, Poesies Sonores lacks an index. With so many names, places and topics, it would have been most welcome. Both Poesies Sonores and Wirekss Imagi­ nation should be of interest to Leonardo MusicJournal readers, as they shed light on areas of intense creativity across the twentieth century. So little has been written on these subjects and so much first-hand information appears in these books that they may also help foster the growth...


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