"The range of work that I present here is diverse, brought together from my enthusiasms. These writers are not a homogeneous grouping. I have brought them together because their work excites me on many levels and because their work prompts me to think about different approaches to text and its sounding."

-- Alaric Sumner

Sound/Text Hypertext Text/Text

_______ A letter from Sound/Text editor Alaric Sumner,
__________with an introduction by Jennifer Ley.

Poet. The word has a healthy lineage, stretching back to the Greek 'poietes' which means 'maker', akin to the Sanskrit word "cinoti', he gathers, he heaps up. Websters goes on to state: ' one (as a creative artist) of great imaginative and expressive capabilities.'

The poets working at the end of the current millennium have been given a new tool ... the Internet, and its language of communication via the WWW ... html. What they have done with it in the space of a few short years is nothing less than astounding. In terms of creation, new forms like hypertext have redefined the art of 'making' of 'gathering and heaping up'. In terms of distribution, new software like RealAudio has put the means of making and distributing aural poetic components in the hands of anyone who owns a home computer and a microphone. Html, Dhtml and javascript have created new neural wiring for the way poets create, and readers 'read', electronic literature.

This issue of Riding the Meridian was conceived to demonstrate just how much the act of being a poet has been influenced by the Internet, in terms of creating and distributing new literary efforts.

The work some multimedia poets are doing on the Net has strong roots, stretching into the language poetry community -- into the field of early concrete poetry. Alaric Sumner's section on Sound/Text showcases the talents of seminal contributors to those genres, in the work of Bob Cobbing, Lawrence Upton, John Cayley, Caroline Bergvall and Charles Amirkhanian, among others, while Christy Sheffield Sanford and I have tapped the field of talent in hypermedia, bringing works by writers like Annie Abrahams, M.D. Coverley and Stephanie Strickland, Deena Larsen and Talan Memmott to show the spectrum of work being created in hypertext. Mark Bernstein, president and chief scientist of Eastgate Systems, Inc., talks about the early days of hypertext and the software used to create it, Storyspace.

And, as the talents of pure text poets should not be seen to be overshadowed by this internet explosion of visuals and sounds, we've collected a group of text works highlighted by a selection of poems by David Weinstock from his new collection, Physical Findings. CK Tower has interviewed Alan Kaufman to gain insight into the current Spoken Word phenomenon and Chocolate Waters has brought us Realaudio by New York Spoken Word poet, Mark Larsen.

Was it only ten years ago when the pundits were proclaiming that we had become a 'tv' society, that the art of reading and writing was all but dead? It would seem their predictions were premature; with new tools and technology and the means to reach their audience at any time of day or night, writers are not only writing, they are singing, chanting, drawing, and digitizing their way into a future that may easily be more literate than the critics could have imagined. It is an exciting time to be a poet. A maker. A gatherer. And when we are very lucky, one of many ones 'of great imaginative and expressive capabilities.'

Sound/Text Editorial

The Sound/Text section of Riding the Meridian is in part a response to the work of Bob Cobbing and Lawrence Upton. For many years, together and apart, they have been exploring the relationships of texts, sounds, and marks. The ideas that have informed my editing of this issue were originally set in motion in 1976 when I first attended Bob Cobbing's 'Experimental Workshop' at the Poetry Society in Earls Court, London.

The range of work that I present here is diverse, brought together from my enthusiasms. These writers are not a homogeneous grouping. I have brought them together because their work excites me on many levels and because their work prompts me to think about different approaches to text and its sounding.

When I suggested the idea of a sound/text section to Jennifer Ley, I had expected to present work which was readings of texts - Charles Amirkhanian's rendition of a score and Bob Cobbing's vocalisations of marks would be examples of what I had expected (Bob's concern to separate the audience's experience of the text and the performance surprised me - though now I can see it is entirely consistent with his practice). I have been delighted and fascinated by the different ways in which people have responded to my invitation.

This section was supposed to be about the relation of the eye to the ear when confronted with voiced text/seen text. Many writers chose to twist that idea around or make work which questioned the assumptions inherent in the invitation.

Tony Kemplen, in his Half Muffled Clappers, reverses the idea; he uses voice recognition software to construct a poem from sound; a recording of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales is the input, part of which is here encoded as a Real Audio file which you can hear while you read the poem that the software created (or was constrained by its programmed interpretive strategies to create) from that sound source.

While Tony used software and sound to write a poem, Joseph Hyde (predominantly an artist who uses sound and video) has created his piece using the text and vocalization of others - here, singer Trina Furre and myself. Joseph and I have been collaborating on a performance work, Nekyia (for speaker, singer, electronic sound and video), which was recently presented at champlibre in Montreal. At the same time, Joseph has been making a CDRom, 64 Refractions: Nekyia for Performance Research (a UK-based journal published by Routledge) and here presents a version adjusted for the Internet. It uses visible texts and sounds from the performance work. Though he insists that the texts are mine, he has so fragmented them and rearranged them and has controlled aspects of our performances of them (as well as electronically editing our utterances) so that often I do not recognise my texts in these new combinations. He has rewritten me. In Nekyia, the texts spoken and sung live have mainly been written for the point at which I have placed them (in relation to the soundscape). In 64 Refractions Joseph has used traces of my words for his own purposes. Are the short sound files you can hear here readings of the texts which are visible on screen? Or has Joseph juxtaposed unrelated material? Can sounds unrelated to a text constitute a reading of that text? What constitutes a reading of a text? On the CDRom 64 Refractions: Nekyia operates instantly and smoothly. Here we must ask for your patience.

John Cayley and Caroline Bergvall have also been collaborating on a work for the Performance Research CDRom, and have prepared a 'taster' for us, translated for the Internet. John works extensively in the digital permutation and generation of texts. Here he offers transformations of texts in French and English, some of the permutations are read by a speech synthesiser. Caroline works for the page, the screen, in installation and in performance. Here her fleeting lines play across languages, typesizes and typefaces, and with the reader's memory of what they have already read and are about to read.

Miekal And has also created a work specifically for the digital medium. recursion stereoscape uses sound, spoken words, visible words and animated letter forms. Rather than privilege a text from which a reading is derived, Miekal has made a work in which reading and listening to language is an aspect of the experience. The page is virtually fluid; sounding is part of the work, not a response to the prewritten.

Michael Basinski has prepared pages with pens, and he sounds them with Nathalie Basinski. It is possible to find on the pages the phrases he sings (using extended vowels) on the page. Nathalie uses no words I can hear. A differentiation can be noted here: unlike the work of Hyde, And, Cayley and Bergvall, and parts of the works by Lawrence Upton and Petra Kuppers, Basinski's work is not internet specific. The different bits of this work could be presented in performance or on tape and in a book. Reedy, cheek, Amirkhanian, Kramer, Cobbing and Kemplen, like Basinski, here present work which was created for other media. Upton discusses this question in reference to his scanned piece Paper House. To resolve the contradictions of translation from paper to screen he created Electric House, a new work appropriate for its medium. If he is right (as I believe he is) that screen presentation of paper works transforms them into something else, half the work in this section is suspect. Am I doing a disservice to writers who use paper and make objects by bringing representations of their work into this medium? (Of course, photographic- and book-representation of object work would be just as suspect, so to answer the question in the affirmative would require major revision of our distribution system for work.)

Two writers chose to investigate the sounding of text question by presenting a soundfile without a visible text (cris cheek) or texts without audible sound (Carlyle Reedy). These writers also throw into question my premis: a text and its sounding; reading and utterance. Knowing how Carlyle Reedy reads her writings, I was very keen to have on this site one of her texts and a real audio file of her performing it. Unfortunately, this was impossible to organise satisfactorily - and, in any case, her interaction with her hearers is lost in recording. Carlyle and I found enough sound in the texts presented here to make a Real Audio file redundant. Carlyle's poetry reading abilities are in many ways an extension of her work in performance (or maybe it is the other way round). She often uses textobjects or 'shards', such as these, as stimuli or reference points for her performances. She has also made many apparently pictorial pieces, though when confronted with many of these I still find I attempt to 'read' them rather than look at them. To me even her work without evident linguistic content has a linguistic or literary quality. Maybe it is simply that they are structured for timebased, progressive, accumulative reception. I can see the whole of a paragraph in an instant but could not read it in an instant. I need Carlyle's work close: the overall view is often less informative than the closer view (the whole mainly, merely (?), as a container for the detail). Whereas with an artist like Sandra Blow, I need her work at a distance, to take on its overall form (detail at the service of the whole).

For me one of the joys of working with Carlyle's textobjects is the feel of them. The touch of her work (her touch as I watch her handling the pieces and my touch as I handle them) is such an important and intense experience - the materiality of the work. Yet here I present a screen version, glowing in glass. I could not pretend you are getting what Carlyle has made. As far as I am aware, she will not have seen her work on the screen before the issue is launched (though she will have had colour printouts for proofing). The only real way to experience her work to the full is to encounter the originals. In the Dialogue section, I talk about the difference between mindtouch and bodytouch. This medium cannot give you body touch and that is disastrous for Carlyle's work. However interesting them may look on the screen there is so much more which is missing. Central to her work is process, the flow and the flux of things. The next time these objects are scanned and those scans placed on the Internet, they may have changed almost out of recognition - if things are in her sphere of influence, in her home, they grow, change, move. The images presented here can't be changed in that way - they have become fixed.

Wendy Kramer also uses usually discarded and unregarded scraps (both objects and scraps of print), making of them... something else. In New York Sour Cream the lid of the cream tub is recycled into the 'page' for the 'writing', but that writing is made of scraps torn and cut from other sources. For RaIs, Art of Fire, her 'page' is a small metal vase. These works, like those of Carlyle, and some of the other contributors here, were not made for the web, but have been represented here. Again, I want to give readers the feel of these works. The moving images presented at the end of Wendy's section, hint at their presence, but nothing on the screen can be more than an image. I first became excited by Wendy's work when I heard her read at St Marks Poetry Marathonin New York in January as she struggled to find her way around a large piece which seemed to have bits loosely attached and which she constantly turned searching for more bits of language.

Charles Amirkhanian (about whose work I have been passionate since the LPs Mental Radio and Lexical Music, way back) presents here a functional score - you can trace what is going on in the soundfile clearly on the score. Whereas Michael and Wendy seem to let their eyes wander over their source, choosing (in the moment) what to utter when, Charles has carefully preplanned, prewritten and prerecorded and he follows his score precisely. His interest in rhythm within vocal utterance is clearly evident here, reminding me of "Rainbow Chug Bandit Bomb", Dutiful Ducks and Seatbelt Seatbelt - old favourites.

Petra Kuppers, in the theory section, creates a new work which has or is traces of a performance Practices of Theory: Encounter with Language she gave at the Drillhall, Aberystwyth, Wales, exploring Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit. Her use of soundfiles in an theoretical context shifts my reading of her text into a performance, a poem; I become more aware of the sonic and rhythmic qualities of the prose, a careful and considered search for what can be usefully translated into this medium - a web-reading of a performance.

cris cheek describes his how can this hum be human as "dictaphonic", constructed on to the recording equipment directly as performance with no prior written existence. Despite my desire to show his visual texts, I have been intrigued with this further disjunction between what I had intended to show and what I have received. There are texts in this sound, pre-texts, post-texts, present-texts. Can you eyear them?

Lawrence Upton has created a work (for Internet Explorer) which combines an exploration of "utterance and notation of poetry" and the terminology used for visual/sound/text work with a number of internet specific 'creative' works. I particularly welcomed his performance of Game on a phrase of Scott Thurston. Real Audio sound quality is bearable - but I hope we can find a publisher for this on CD. You will be viewing the texts Lawrence is reading from on a screen, yet in the recording you can hear him turn the paper pages as the gulls call outside my kitchen window. In much of the work in this issue, the visual/textual element was created on paper and the sound performance was created from that paper version. How does the image on the screen relate to that piece of paper? What does scanning do? In Carlyle's work in particular I am acutely aware that I am not presenting her work but a representation of it, and a very strange one. Lawrence has made the work here so that it exposes these contradictions and investigates (both in the poems and in the argument) the relation of paper to screen and the relation of performance to websound.

Bob Cobbing and Lawrence have been collaborating for some years on a project which has been given the name Domestic Ambient Noise/Moise (also known as Dan/m or DAN). This project consists of one poet presenting the other with a theme from which the second makes six variations. The theme and the six variations are then published as a booklet. The first poet will then choose a theme from this booklet from which to make another six variations - a second booklet - and so on. Recently, 7 and 8 variations have been made, using the front and back covers. The project will be completed in 2000 with the 300th booklet - a total of more than 2000 pages of visual ("visually-emphatic" in Upton's terminology) poetry. Bob and Lawrence make their texts for performance.

Outside of the DAN series, they make works called Collaborations for.... (of which their Collaborations for Alaric Sumner here is an example). These works cannot be DANs since they do not fall within the sequence and are published in different formats or media. A collaboration can only be a DAN if it is one of the 300 booklets (or a performance of one of those booklets). So, I could not present a DAN on the internet (though there are scans from DAN pages in cris cheek's article used as reference material).

In this issue of Riding the Meridian a number of aspects of the DAN project are explored: in the theory section there is an article, developed by cris cheek from his paper delivered at the Third Sub Voicive Colloquium, London, in January 1999.

I also present a discussion with Bob and Lawrence specifically about DAN and the relation of its text to its vocal performance.During this discussion, it became clear that Bob does not want hearers to be able to see the texts from which he performs. For him, they are two separate experiences for readers/listeners. This, again, contradicted my expectations and intentions but expands the questions this section raises: does my desire to provide the texts for listeners to read enhance or hinder their appreciation of the image or the sound? I have placed Bob's sound file on a separate page, which you reach by travelling through his visual poems.

I hope that this extensive exploration of the work of these two poets will enable those who have not come across their work before to engage fully in the numerous issues and ideas that their work provokes. The theoretical articles may, at times, appear to require considerable previous theoretical knowledge and extensive knowledge of their practice - but I hope that readers who have not encountered this work before will find much of interest and will be encouraged to explore further (maybe returning here later). My aim, however, is also to provide informative and provocative material in this collection of pieces for those who know Bob's and Lawrence's work well.

Is the term 'reading' still useful for describing the activity of experiencing the work of the writers and artists in this section of Riding the Meridian? Is it a useful term for what they do when they work in sound? Indeed, is it an appropriate word to use for the activity of experiencing digital work at all? What new terminology would better describe that activity? In this section I have not sought to resolve questions, but to generate them - questions around performance and the page/the page and the screen. Between the sounds and the sights, between the theory and the practice, between the lines and the digits, I hope you will find in this section languages, meanings, visions and auditions that will lead you into work about which I am passionate.

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