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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

text, sound, electronics, live coding

Hazel Smith and Roger Dean (University of Western Sydney/austraLYSIS, Australia)

Hybridity Performances and Screenings
Thursday, August 6  20:00- 23:00 (Østre)

This is a performance by Hazel Smith and Roger Dean, involving a strong sonic and musical element interwoven with text. It includes sampled text and sound, electronics and live coding of text and sound. The performance will include two pieces, Metaphorics and Bird Migrants.

These two works were performed earlier this year in the UK and Australia, but have undergone considerable development. Every iteration and performance of them (particularly of Metaphorics) is substantially different.

Metaphorics (2014) for voice and coded sound

This piece employs live voice, live-coded sound (using the platform Gibber by Charlie Roberts, University of California at Santa Barbara), and live algorithmic sound. It involves samples from a recording of parts of the text, together with electronic and sampled instruments.

The piece is about metaphor: it also employs metaphor while at the same time deconstructing it. Historically metaphor has been one of the main tools of poetry. Attitudes towards metaphor have been very important in contemporary poetry and poetics, but have caused divisions in the poetic community. Some poets have clung to metaphor as a traditional mainstay of their craft. Others have reacted against the idea of metaphor because they felt that it was always working at one remove, or was being used to stitch the different parts of a poem together into a fabricated unity. This piece works with that dichotomy. 

The first section of Metaphorics, “metaphor”, takes a stance to writing a poem adapted from contemporary conceptual poetry. It was written by cutting and pasting from the Internet –  with some modification – statements about metaphor. The other two sections, “the unanswered question” and “windfall”, consist of a short poem and a poetic monologue that are freely written. They employ different kinds of metaphor, but in ways that are somewhat unorthodox.

The live coding and live algorithms allow events to prefigure or react to the performed voice and musical components: this provides another layer of metaphor. Live coding is the process of constructing computer code to perform a task in real-time (in this case a range of sonic and text processing). Live algorithms on the other hand are preformed interactive platforms and, of course, they are written by the creators themselves; in our case usually in MaxMSP.

 Metaphorics reacts against the idea that metaphors in a poem should be consistent and unified; the metaphors keep changing and there is no obvious through-metaphor (except, perhaps, metaphor itself).

Bird Migrants (2014)

Bird Migrants 2 is a piece for voice and through-composed electronics. It is a development of Bird Migrants 1 which was commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for the Radio National Program Soundproof and is in podcast form on their website at Bird Migrants 2 adds some live performance, and visual images treated in Jitter/MaxMSP, so is substantially different. 

The piece uses bird and environmental sounds, transformed voice samples and instruments. In Bird Migrants there is a cross-species evocation of voice. The piece is based on the poem by Hazel Smith, “The Great Egret”. The poem was inspired by the wedding scene in Theo Angelopoulos’s film The Suspended Step of the Stork, where a couple marry each other from the opposite banks of a river that flows through a divided country. The great egret can be seen to represent the tragic history of the country, but also the longing for flight and freedom. The poem was written for the Bimblebox project, a developing project around the 153 bird species that have been recorded on the Bimblebox Nature Refuge in central western Queensland. The home of these birds, and the ecosystems that support them, is in the path of a proposed coal mine.

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