On sound (I)

When semantic meaning is eclipsed all sorts of other meaning come out of hiding. In our first class I wanted to get students thinking with their ears about vocables — oral sounds — apart from the meanings we like to grant certain of the shapes they take (words). It’s hard to explain but easy to experience.

I started them off with scat singing (always defined in terms of “nonsense” vocables — slanderous) by Louis Armstrong —

and Ella Fitzgerald:

Only a brute would deny there’s meaning there. Not the sort of meaning we mean when we say “I understand what that means.” Much closer to the meaning we mean when we say “you mean a lot to me.” When someone reaches out to someone and makes contact — that’s a meaning.

We moved on to Christian Bok’s performance of Hugo Ball’s Karawane (a more gravelly doing than the one I played in class):

In some spots it’s a little referential and a lot mimetic — jolifanto calling to mind swaying circus elephants. But at the core it’s what the Russian Futurists called zaum or beyonsense — expression released from reference so its sensuous and esoteric possibilities can unfold. Sometimes comically, as here, and sometimes not.

Some meaning is had. Some meaning is been. And some meaning is done. Our focus here is sound, but I can’t resist a bit of vision, how Ball’s poem steps out to the eye:

Anyway, my students did great with this weird trio, pointing out connections to the proto-articulations of infants (which mean nothing communicable but everything to mom and dad) and the science in non-Western cultures of the spiritual efficacy of sound.

And, less esoteric, the noises we make to get something immediate, embodied, across. Ahhhhhhhh. Oh! Hmmmm.

Published by


I write draw teach blog in and from the Pacific Northwest of America.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s