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.

Norwich pattern books

This from erikkwakkel:

Norwich pattern books

These happy-looking books from the 18th century contain records. Not your regular historical records – who had died or was born, or how much was spent on bread and beer – but a record of cloth patterns available for purchase by customers. They survive from cloth producers in Norwich, England, and they are truly one of a kind: a showcase of cloth slips with handwritten numbers next to them for easy reference. The two lower images are from a pattern book of the Norwich cloth manufacturer John Kelly, who had such copies shipped to overseas customers in the 1760s. Hundreds of these beautiful objects must have circulated in 18th-century Europe, but they were almost all destroyed. The ones that do survive paint a colourful picture of a trade that made John and his colleagues very rich.

Pics: the top two images are from an 18th-century Norwich pattern book shown here; the lower ones are from a copy kept in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (item 67-1885), more here.

Love this. The swatches put me in mind of the colour stripes on resistors that tell you just how much resistance they put up in ohms.

Too, the cover of Christian Bök’s Eunoia, a sound-to-hue translation of Rimbaud’s “Voyelles.” Here’s the image.

Here’s the poem it translates.

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes:
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Golfes d’ombre ; E, candeur des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d’ombelles;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes;

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d’animaux, paix des rides
Que l’alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;

O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
Silence traversés des Mondes et des Anges:
— O l’Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux!

Bök translates each vowel in the poem according to the equivalences laid out in the first line. Consonants make the grey field. He calls perversely the sum of it “Of Yellow.”