The Misunderstood Aural Art of . . . Poetry

As I mentioned in my post about “The Wheel of Time” fantasy/sci-fi book series, I have a degree in English Literature.  As is also mentioned in that post, I tend to take a bit of an interest whenever anyone starts talking about books, and literature.  Finally, as is further mentioned in that post, that degree, and my interest in pursuing such a degree, has made me a bit of a book snob.  However, as I was revisiting that post, and looking at the authors I mentioned in it, I began thinking about poetry.

Okay, relax, I know what everyone is thinking right now, which is some variation of how poetry is boring, dusty, sullen, sappy, (insert more adjectives here); and, despite my educational background, I can understand why most everyone feels that way.  I mean it is really  hard (not in the absolute difficult sense) to read poetry, and I say that as someone who enjoys dabbling in writing poetry (stay relaxed, I won’t torment you with any of my poems).  However, what if I were to tell you that poetry is not meant to be read.  Wait . . . what?

Poetry IS hard to read – quietly.  That is because it is meant to be heard.  It is, in short, an aural, as well as an oral art, like music; and for all of those out there that dismiss poetry as (insert adjectives here): think of the lyrics to songs, which, for better, or for worse, are essentially poems set to music.  Nonetheless, a poem, though typically not having musical accompaniment, is not meant to just be read, quietly, alone; but spoken aloud, and shared.  I found that I began to understand, and appreciate poetry more once I accepted this, and actually started reading the assigned poets, and their poetry out loud.  I also found that reciting whatever I have written aloud helped me in writing my own poetry (keep cool, I still won’t torment you).  So, I thought what I would do is share some poems being recited aloud (not by me) with everyone.

I’ll start with one of my favorite poems from the English Romantic Era, that being Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan – Or a Vision in a Dream:”

For many though, that is still just old and stodgy, I mean it was written in 1797 afterall, so let’s jump into the 20th century, 1951 to be exact, and listen to Dylan Thomas recite one of his mater works, “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night:”

Still too old and stodgy?  How about Charles Bukoski, and his 1992 published poem, “Bluebird:”

Still not new enough?  Well, how about this 12 year old poet prodigy, Kioni “Popcorn” Marshall, and her 21st century poem “Forgotten:”

Of course those are just the tiniest tip of the iceberg in the world of poetry, and damn if Kioni doesn’t make me feel decidedly useless in my poetic attempts (at ease, I’m still not going to torment you), I could have/should have included Pablo Neruda, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe,  the bard himself, Shakespeare, Matsou Basho, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and the list goes on and on and on. Poetry is not dead, nor is it dying.  It is definitely under appreciated, and even utterly dismissed more times than not, but I contend that is because the art of poetry is misunderstood (by many) as small bits of silent literature, read alone in darkened English manors; or tucked deep in the darkest bowels of libraries, and relegated to the tiniest of shelf space of bookstores everywhere.  Too many think that poems are bleeding heart bits of romantic drivel, but there are happy poems, and angry poems; abstract poems, and rhythmic poems, regardless of the style though, a poem is better to be heard and seldom understood if simply read.  The words on the page can only, at times, convey the poets meaning, force, and intonation, but those words, like all words, mean more when they are spoken.  So, next time you see a poem, try reading it aloud, even if it is just in a whisper, you might be surprised at how those words might make more sense and, you should pick up on the tempo of the poem too, and maybe, just maybe, you might like what you just said (not read).

The Wheel of Time

Wheel of Time LogoLast night I met up with some friends for some tasty Mexican food, a few cervezas, and of course some conversation.  When we hang out, our conversations wander across the spectrum of many subjects, like sports (who is going to win the upcoming Super Bowl?), movies (“Apocalypse Now,” “Killing Fields,” “Deer Hunter,” and to lighten the atmosphere after those rather heavy films, “The Big Lebowski”), a little music (which band was Rob Thomas in, 3rd Eye Blind, or Matchbox 20 – it was Matchbox 20 – don’t ask how or why we got on that topic), politics (income tax vs. consumption tax), and literature (specifically the sci-fi series “The Wheel of Time”).

It was the last subject that I found interesting, because I do have a degree in English Literature (you know Shakespeare, both Shelleys,  Lord Byron, Keats, Yeats, Chaucer – that kind of literature) so when my friends bring up books, my ears tend to perk up; which is what happened last night.  Two of my friends started talking about The Wheel of Time series, which I didn’t know anything about, because I am more than a bit of a book snob, as is a given by my chosen degree.  I sat there and listened to these two friends of mine tell me how great the series is, and how the final book, which they are both reading, is equally fantastic.  Needless to say, when I got home, I decided to do a little research into this sci-fi/fantasy book series.  I found that it has been licensed twice for TV/film, once for a miniseries on NBC (that never materialized), and currently the film rights are held by Universal Pictures.  I found that it is being/has been adapted into comic book form, by Dabel Brothers.  I also found that there are games based upon the series too.  However, since this is a site about sound after all, I was also a bit intrigued to learn that there is actually music based upon this series too.  This led me into more … um … “research.”

The first bit of research I did was into the German based power band that goes by the handle “Blind Guardian,” and their not one, but TWO songs they have written about/in honor of this series of books.  The first being called “Ride into Obsession:”

The other, suitably enough, is called “Wheel of Time:”

There’s also an orchestral version of this song, it basically sounds the same as above, minus the vocals.

Not to be out done by their European neighbors, Swedish heavy metal band Katana has their own tribute to this series, with their song “The Wisdom of Emond’s Field:

Okay, so the above music kind of fits a bit of the stereotype of Metal/Sci-Fi/Fantasy fusion/inspiration/whatever you want to call it, going back to Led Zeppelin’s references to J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” and/or “The Hobbit” in some of their songs.  However there was even a “The Wheel of Time” soundtrack released in 1999, featuring music by Robert Berry, which seems a bit odd to have a soundtrack with no film or TV show.  I guess that should show the popularity of this book series.  Then there is a symphonic poem that was done by composer Seth Stewart, entitled “Age of Legends:”

Say what you will about the music inspired by this book series, personally I think that Blind Guardian and DragonForce could be mistaken for the same band, and I kind of chuckled at the photo of the band Katana, on their MySpace page, because it reminded me of the animated metal band “Dethklok,” which airs on The Cartoon Network’s late night schedule, called Adult Swim.  Anyway, I think I might have to start reading this series of books, based simply off of my friends recommendations, and not so much on the music inspired by it.

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

Sorry, there’s no sound in this post, because in space, no one can hear you scream.

About two months ago NASA announced that it is working on a faster than light, warp drive engine; which surely must have elicited a very audible sound of rejoicing from Trekkies the world over.  NASA found that the energy requirements for such an engine weren’t as implausible as imagined, thus making such an engine very plausible indeed.  As a bit of a space nut myself, I thought that was very, very cool news.

Well, now comes reports from the land down under, here their scientists have finished doing their own research on the prospects of warp drive engines, and while they don’t refute NASA’s plausibility aspect, they have discovered some dire consequences of us warping the space time continuum.  In seems that our future Starship Enterprise would bring death and destruction with it to any star system it travels; not because it would be loaded with photon torpedoes, but because of what it would be dragging behind it in its wake.

The Aussie scientists contend that as our future missions to go where no one has gone before, our intrepid starship would accumulate a large amount of space debris that would get trapped in the warp field.  This isn’t a problem until the ship slows out of warp.  All of that debris would then continue to hurtle forward and rain death and destruction upon whatever planet (and the starship too) we are going to explore.  The longer the distance, the more the debris, the more hurtling destruction.

Sorry I had to through some Star Wars in there.

Making music with swings

21 Balançoires takes is an art installation residing in a newly open space in front of Université du Québec à Montréal’s Science Faculty. Together with Luc-Alain Giraldeau, an animal behaviour professor from the faculty, artists Mouna Andaros, Melissa Mongiat and Kelsey Snook wanted to explore the idea that together we achieve better things than separately.

What they came up with is a gigantic musical “instrument” made of 21 musical swings. Each of the swings triggers different notes, and all the swings together compose a piece, but some sounds only emerge from a cooperative effort of the interaction between the swings.

Here it is in action:

The great thing about this is that it can involve young and old alike (at the same time), to collaborate together to form music. You don’t need to know how to play anything, you just need to know how to have fun.

Here are a number of photos of the installation (click each to see larger versions).

“The sanitary and mechanical age we are now entering makes up for the mercy it grants to our sense of smell by the ferocity with which it assails our sense of hearing.”

— Havelock Ellis, 1912

Own the dryer that dried Axl Rose’s headbands

For some reason, Guns N’ Roses owned a dryer that it carted around in a road case on their tours.  I imagine that Axl had a lot of sweaty headbands or sleeveless t-shirts.

Whatever the reason, they owned a W-10 Kenmore Dryer to take on the road. Now that they spend a lot less time touring, they must have a lot less laundry to do since they are selling off the appliance.

For a $99 starting bid, you can own a part of rock history and wash your underwear in the same dryer as Guns n’ Roses.  You can see the auction here, and a number of other items other items such as an original pair of Peter Criss boots, several 8-track audio recorders that may or may not have been used by the group, and a mixing console.

The dryer comes complete with vented road case and, while it was working prior to storage, it has not been tested in a while. A number of items such as amplifiers, keyboards, rack/outboard gear, guitar effects, pedal boards, staging, props, back drops and road cases will be listed over the next few weeks.

To those who complain about the price of musicians

A guy calls a musician’s guild to get a quote on a 6 piece band for a wedding.  The rep says “Well, off the top of my head, about $2000.”

The guy says “WHAT? for MUSIC!?

The rep responds: “I’ll tell you what – Call the plumber’s union and ask for 6 plumbers to work from 6 until midnight on a Saturday night.  Whatever they charge you, we’ll work for half.”

You should be kicking yourself

Here are 10 gigs that you probably missed because you either weren’t alive, didn’t live in England, or were just too dumb to notice.  Just think, you could have bought a ticket to every single one of these shows for a total of under 20 bucks.

If you had…

…5 shillings ($.40) in 1962, you could have seen:
The Beatles play their first gig in Wales @ The Regent Dansette in Rhyl

…4 shillings ($.32) in 1963, you could have seen:
The Blues By Six plus The Rolling Stones @ The Manor House in London

…3 shillings ($.24) in 1966, you could have seen:
The Bowie Showboat, ‘Three hours of music and mime by David Bowie’ @ at the Marquee Club, London

…£1 ($1.59) in 1967, you could have seen:
The Move, Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience and Pink Floyd @ the Tulip Bulb Auction Hall, Spalding, Lincs.

…75p. ($1.19) in 1971, you could have seen:
The Velvet Underground @ Friars, Aylesbury

…£1 ($1.59) in 1975, you could have seen:
Led Zeppelin – three night run @ Earls Court, London

…£1.50 ($2.38) in 1980, you could have seen:
U2 @ The Moonlight, West Hampstead, London

…£1 ($1.59) in 1981, you could have seen:
Blancmange supported by Depeche Mode @ The Hope & Anchor, London

…£2.50 ($3.97) in 1988, you could have seen:
The Stone Roses supported by The Charlatans @ The London School Of Economics, London

…£3.50 ($5.56) in 1993, you could have seen:
Radiohead @ The Wheatsheaf, Stoke On Trent, Stafforshire

You probably didn’t know…

Just for fun, here are a few music factoids that you might not have known.  If you know any more interesting ones, please leave them in the comments!

  1.  Bill Wyman is the only Rolling Stones’ member to have had a Top 20 hit single as a solo performer with “(Si, Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star” released in July 1981.
  2.  Joe Walsh ran for President of the United States in 1980 on top of his music career as a mock campaign. He promised to make ‘Life’s Been Good‘ the new national anthem if he won, and ran on a platform of ‘Free Gas For Everyone.’ Though Walsh was not old enough to actually assume the office, he wanted to raise public awareness of the election. He then ran again for vice president in 1992.
  3.  In 2000, Shaun Ryder’s Volkswagen Corrado was found abandoned after being used as the getaway car. The former Happy Monday’s singer’s car was used in an armed robbery on Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip restaurant in Manchester. £7,000 cash was taken in the robbery.
  4.  David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust is about Vince Taylor, who wrote Brand New Cadillac which was covered by The Clash.
  5.  Akon (who had the 2005 hit ‘Lonely‘) is an ex-con: He spent three years behind bars after being convicted of heading a car-theft ring.
  6.  Justin Timberlake’s first attempts at a singing career saw him singing country music songs on US TV Star Search as “Justin Randall.”
  7.  The oldest UK chart topper is Louis Armstrong who was 66 years and 10 months when he peaked with ‘What A Wonderful World/Cabaret‘ in 1968.
  8.  The most expensive music video ever made is ‘Scream‘ by Michael and Janet Jackson, which cost $7 million to make in 1995.
  9.  In 1978, Terry Kath, guitarist and singer with the group Chicago accidentally shot himself dead while cleaning what he believed was an unloaded gun. Kath’s last words were “Don’t worry it’s not loaded” as he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. He was killed instantly.
  10.  Vee Jay records, who released the first Beatles single in the US, mis-spelt the groups name as ‘The Beattles.’
  11.  According to the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods, while touring the UK in the 1960’s, Sonny Boy Williamson set his hotel room on fire by trying to cook a rabbit in a coffee percolator.
  12.  At the age of 17 David Bowie was interviewed on a BBC programme as the founder of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men. He complained: “It’s not nice when people call you darling and that”.
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