This evening we’ll have performances by Jason, who is going to perform an original text, and Sean Nicholson, who is going to perform a monologue from “Any Given Sunday.”

So, this is our penultimate class, and we’re going to address one last new topic: performance and technology. Poetry performance has changed in character in the last half-century, and readings and literary performances of all kinds have become more popular. Arguably, the availability and development of various sound recording technologies has something to do with this. In this class we’ll talk about the impact of audio and video recording, analog and digital, on performance and on language. We’ll read essays by N. Katherine Hayles and Michael Davidson and listen to recordings by Swifty Lazarus, Fortner Anderson, and others.

N. Katherine Hayles, “Voices out of Bodies, Bodies out of Voices: Audiotape and the Production of Subjectivity,” and

Michael Davidson, “Technologies of Presence: Orality and the Tapevoice of Contemporary Poetics,”both from

Morris, Adalaide, ed. Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1997.

Hayles discusses William S. Burroughs’ The Ticket that Exploded, and Samuel Beckett’s monologue “Krapp’s Last Tape,” which you can read here, and watch here.

Davidson writes about David Antin, Steve Benson, and Laurie Anderson—in particular a piece from her performance United States. You can watch Anderson’s piece here.

Here are a few other recordings I’d like to talk about in class.

Swifty Lazarus, “-History is Dead (Read my Lips)

Fortner Anderson, “Vegass

Bob Holman, “Lounge Chair

Also, this live performance by Alexis O’Hara.

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  1.   nahmed

    Hi classmates!

    I currently work at Rikers Island teaching ELA to Adolescent Males. Being that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, my coworkers and I are trying to put together some sort of celebration for them. It’s nothing fancy, just some good food for them to enjoy on this holiday. Some of these kids have not had a Thanksgiving for years, and for some, this is their first Thanksgiving away from their family and a good meal. We are collecting donations in order to have food catered for them and I am kindly asking you to contribute if you can!

    Thank you so much! Here’s the link…

    The person you see on the donation site is the Math teacher at our school (East River Academy) and is the teacher spearheading the whole operation.

    Thanks again!

    – Neeta Ahmed

  2.   Sean Rogers

    My daughter is gone. Well kind of. I mean to say that the way we speak. No the way we communicate has changed. So perhaps gone is poor. Altered. Yes my daughter has been altered and I suppose that means I’ve been altered, well in the sense that I’m a father. Sometimes I’m a carpenter and that seems very much the same but my being a father is different, changed, yes altered. I’ve always paid her phone bill. She was stubborn though. She’d say, “Dad, I really don’t need you to keep my paying my bill. You got me through school and I got a job. I can pay for my own phone bill. I want to pay for my own phone bill. Please.” (italics of unsure origin) But I’d say, “no, no. As long as I want to to talk to you I should pay for it.” I was being cute so that she’d smile and she would and the fight would lose its sense of fight and well, I was always going to pay for this phone bill, well, for as long as I could. But there’s been a distance between us of late. Just time I suppose. Time is distance but as they say it “makes the heart grow fonder.” Sometimes I think that “fonder” is the only thing that makes the distance manageable. So I’d invariably call and she’d be busy with the circumstances time created in the way that time seems to not care about anything at all. Which is fine. I’ve grown old enough in time to realize that its something not to argue with. But I left messages. You know how it is to leave a message. It’s weird. You say something and then maybe someone listens to it when they’re busy with something else or when something is too good on t.v. or maybe their thumb hits the seven too hard and the message is gone. I know that to leave a message means that there’s a chance she doesn’t get the message. And what if she hears it and says, “that doesn’t sound like my father” or maybe she thinks “is my father mad at me,” because well even sometimes I don’t understand all of my moods. So I try to leave a lot of messages. Messages with good wishes. And I always say, “Love, Dad” no matter if its because I heard something she liked on the radio or something she used to like but doesn’t anymore and I thought that she would find it funny that I remembered because these are both true, the “love” and the “dad” part that is. For awhile she hated when I said that, mostly when she was a teenager. She pierced her lip and even though I said I didn’t care, that I thought it looked good, well, that seemed to upset her more. And she stopped wearing it. For awhile I thought I accomplished some kind of paternal goal unconsciously but I don’t think so, in that her taking the ring out wasn’t my goal even if what I said did in fact accomplish that. I mean, when I met her she had green hair, her mother that is. But we got past that, where she, my daughter, found the “I love you’s” and the other versions of that embarrassing and I thought we were good. I mean we are good. But it’s hard to say because I keep leaving messages and paying the bill and I haven’t heard a message back in some time. And now the mailbox says it’s full. So now I just call and call and hang up just before it tells me that again, because, well I like to hear her voice and not the automated one. The automated one is like a girl’s but distinctly not. It’s just like her, my daughter, to say “apparently I can’t answer the phone.” She could never help herself. I love that apparently. So I listen to only that now.

  3.   Nick Matthews

    Technology has allowed us to transplant “our voice” outside of the body; to make electronic objects our vocal dopplegangers, and hear the guilty pleasure of our own voices talking back at us. We’ve found ways to edit it, fine-tune, auto-tune it, do about anything to it—yet at what point does it no longer become “your” voice?

    At what point do the electronics, the tweaking, the conscious knowledge of playing with orality, undermine this notion of primordial authenticity associated with speech? As Sean was pointing out with his image of the Answering Machines; when does this foreign object– melding automated voice with actual voice– undermine the very purpose of communication. Sean’s Father/ Daughter relationship just showcases the growing dependence on technology to do the talking for you. Let us leave a plethora of segments of our recorded voice—an odd simulacrum of our actual speech– in an attempt to convey a conversation via a technology that is only mimicking what can truly be done in person.

  4.   jaygwelsh

    I found the essay by Hayles to be rather interesting. As someone who is a very-amateur DJ and has remixed music before, I admit I never really gave much thought to the actual medium as I have to the music. The idea that a recording is both constant and changing is baffling at first glance, but does make sense. The fact that people – editors and performers alike – have altered recordings over the 20th century is only further testament to that fact.

    That said, I found Beckett’s piece “Krapp’s Last Tape” to be a bit of a slap-in-the-face to the technical paradox of audio recordings. I found it ironic that for a monologue (or could it be a dialogue since he’s interacting with old, recorded versions of himself?) that is obsessed with audio recording, it certainly doesn’t follow the potential of the medium. There is excessive attention paid to minute tasks that Krapp attends to, things that have no use in the story and could have easily been removed on the cutting floor. I am not sure whether Beckett does this as an acknowledgement that recording is a perfectionist’s delight or that Beckett means the piece to be satirical, poking fun at the malleability of recording.

    As for the Alexis O’Hara’s piece, I found it…interesting. It was a bit abstract for me in some parts, but I understood and appreciated the concept behind the piece. I have always believed in the idea of the voice being a musical instrument of its own right, subjected to an almost-infinite combination of different notes, checked only by the musician’s creativity. Forget the flute; the voice was the first wind instrument. The same can be said for Laurie Anderson and her distortions of voice, creating an eerie – yet somehow musical – performance. And I believe this idea of voice as an instrument connects with the other pieces, especially Lazarus’s “History is Dead” (with its ironic juxtaposition of cheery music against serious talk) and Fortner Anderson’s “Vegass” (a haunting collection of otherwise-unrelated, otherwise-minute sounds). The idea that we could create something unsettling and extraordinary out of ordinary sounds – as abstract as that may seem – is a jaw-dropping technology, regardless. Not only does it offer a broad expansion of our current culture (i.e. hip-hop producers who sample music from the 70s), but it allows for a smooth transition over time, from generation to generation. Using the idea of hip-hop sampling once more, you can barely notice the change from, say, Love Unlimited Orchestra’s “I Wanna Stay” from the 70s to Q-Tip’s rap song “Vivrant Thing” from the late 90s.

    With that in mind, I would have to raise the issue of sampling and legality. Not so much from a financial viewpoint, but a philosophical one; how much credit does one deserve if they wind up as a sample in a future song? After all, culture is a slow but steady progression – we can trace our literary heritage to Shakespeare just as well as Shakespeare could trace his own to Ovid. In such a drawn-out chain as the history of culture, what is the significance of one artist demanding that his voice not only be heard, but be recognized as well? I may be veering into a Marxist ditch here, but does the constant evolution of culture have to come to a halt just because a single artist (and – as I mentioned earlier in this response – a single voice or a single instrument) wants due credit? After all, although Shakespeare is held in cultural esteem, his credits are called dubious – some people argue that his plays are apocryphal (which they weren’t) and that he, the Bard himself, didn’t even exist (which he did).

    James Welsh

    (P.S. I have found the name for my nightmares. Its name is Laurie Anderson.)

  5.   dsykes

    The interiority of subvocalization during a reading of the text is not something that I feel is directly connected with the process of vocalizing or recording your own voice. The process of pronouncing or recording voice betrays the connection to work that interiority affords, and is completely different from the rawness of an interior voice.
    Once interior monologue is vocalized it become extremely different depending upon the comfort that each individual feels with expression. The issue becomes one of being conscious of ones own attributes and imposes social scrutiny to the significance of the work.
    In this sense, this may be why some students are able to express their connection with materials in mediums such as blogs and writing papers and not during classroom discussions. As thoughts are pronounced, we hear the inflection, tone of voice, pronunciation and question proper use of diction to a certain extent. As temporality does not allow for editing of something once it is said, the act of speaking includes a sense of anxiety. I feel this anxiety is heightened in the process of recording.
    I personally feel that listening to my own voice in a recording is creepy. Most people will say- “Do I really sound like that?” as sound is heard differently as it escaped the design of our body’s cavities and reverberates differently. A sense of unfamiliarity and daunting proof of difference between personal perception and accurate perception produces, for me, and uncomfortableness in a disconnect of expressive identification.
    One interesting assertion that is made by Hayles in his analysis of the role of recording voice is that it creates another individual manifestation of ourselves. Hayles writes, “Presence and voice are thus broken apart and put together in new ways. Presence can now mean physicality or sounds and voice can be embodied in either a machine or a body(83.)” I would argue that the recording of voice, in the act of hearing oneself does not exist in this manner, although this dynamic does exist outside of listening to oneself. When listening to a recording, the connection that exists with voice is not an embodiment outside of ourselves or an existence that defines the expression through machine as another entity. The recording as a medium itself does not express anything- our voices do. Whether that voice has immediacy within ourselves, or altered temporality facilitated by a recording device does not authorize a new presence. The presence exists in voice whether it exists within ourselves or out of ourselves because of the choice and characteristics of our own individual speech. The expression of words outside of interiority has a similar effect in both cases with added scrutiny of ourselves in our consciousness of the realities of our expression. However, I would not describe this dynamic as a necessary displacement- more as an embodiment. Fragmentation of expression through recording leads to heightened consciousness of our eloquence.

  6.   Sean Nicholson

    I found this week’s readings both enlightening and frustrating. The reason that I found some of the works as enlightening is because for my final project I am examining some of the differences between a typewritten text and an audio performance of the same text. The reason that I found this so frustrating is because after gettting a good chunk of my paper worked out, I had to go back and almost start over now that I have more applicable resources. If only these assignments had come earlier in the semester I could have saved myself alot of time.
    To comment on James’ post about Shakespeare, I think that there is some artistic merit in using a sample of a song or a worn-out plot device, as long as the author does not claim that the work is original. For example, Sharon Draper is a popular teen author who wrote a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, titled, “Romiette and Julio”. The plot line is taken straight from Romeo and Juliet but the style and delivery are all Draper herself. In this way we can see the plot being ‘sampled’ by Draper but setting it to a new beat that adds extra layers of meaning to the text.

  7.   pseraphin

    In response to Nick” at what time is it no longer your voice?”, I am not sure if the recording machine alters the authenticity of the voice or the idea or the message. In fact I think it does exactly what the speaker wants it to do, and also transmit exactly the message that the speaker wants it to transmit. It’s amazing that we can go back and edit the speech, it’s just like writing. Being able to tweak or edit does not necessarily interfere with the author’s intention. I don’t see technology as a foreign object because it can only do what we ask of it.

  8.   gfl11131988

    Queens College
    Professor Corey Frost
    ENGL 781
    Response # 11
    George Festin Lorenzo

    In this semester’s final set of readings, an interesting topic is spun around and that is the idea of performance and their affect in recordings. A text by N. Katherine Hayles, entitled, Voices out of Bodies, Bodies out of Voices: Audiotape and the Production of Subjectivity, helps expand on this idea of recordings and the use of film and tape. Hayles makes a very unique statement when she writes, “The period when audiotape played an important role in U.S. and European consumer culture may well be limited to the four decades of 1950-90” (75). That statement takes a lot of truth but also leaves out a lot of the reasons why. Obviously, audiotape was a crucial way to record speeches, wars, movies, and other key forms of media during those four decades but eventually came the advent of compact discs, or CDs. And obviously, there later became DVDs, which overtook VHS’s and that is why audiotape soon became obsolete.
    I would like to comment on what Nick said when he wrote, “Technology has allowed us to transplant “our voice” outside of the body…yet at what point does it no longer become “your” voice?”. That statement really jumped out at me because I feel that with today’s technology, you can truly alter a voice to the point that it is no longer yours. In spite of the fact that you may have been the original speaker of the words, if it is modified by somebody else, it may not be considered yours anymore. One key example that jumps out at me about that is Antoine Dodson’s (apparently) angry voice, lambasting an attempted rapist. Obviously, his voice quickly became an auto-tune song and became such a hit on iTunes, he was invited to perform a snippet of his song live at the past BET awards. However, on the credits, he was not the sole holder, which just goes to show that it was no longer his voice solely.
    One last text I would like to look at would be Michael Davidson’s Technologies of Presence: Orality and the Tapevoice of Contemporary Poetics. Davidson makes a point to acknowledge that because of tape recordings, a single voice could be heard simultaneously throughout the world. Davidson utilizes the example of Adolf Hitler, and writes, The voice of Hitler at mass rallies or heard on the radio was a powerful instrument in the “conversion experience” of many Germans, French, and Italians. Through the tape recording, the führer’s voice or that of his operatives could be heard simultaneously in every country within the Axis powers, thus achieving a global presence for a single speaker” (100-101). Obviously, the utilization of recordings was found to be extremely useful ever since the days of World War II, and proved instrumental in Hitler’s rise to power.

    (P.S. This website still has not fixed it’s time problem. I am posting this at 8:53 AM. Thanks).

  9.   Jason G.

    I find it intriguing that technology has played a key role in the art of spoken word. Technology gives a writer or performer the chance to add a various elements to a performance piece that serve to not only enhance the piece but to bring out new elements in the writing. The adding of a “soundtrack” or backing music can actually effect the way the words hit you.
    For instance Swifty Lazarus uses technology to his advantage by adding a backing track to his piece “History Is Dead”. He chooses a frantic jazz medley that ranges from ominous to cheerful. I found it interesting that the happiest moments of the music were placed over the darker moments of the writing. This juxtaposition creates a sort of dark humor and really highlights the attitudes being expressed.
    At the same time the use of technology can also distort and at times hinder the message of the writing. I thought Fortner Anderson’s use of digital enhancement in his piece “Vegass” actually brought the piece down.
    While I found his approach interesting the piece became solely abstract. While this may be exactly what he was going for I feel the piece would have held more weight if you could at least understand a tiny bit of what he was saying.
    Lastly, I wanted to comment on George’s comment that a voice once altered may no longer be your “own”. The example of Antoine Dodson was very appropriate as his ramblings are now an auto-tuned phenomenon that he shares the rights to.
    This day in age we have the ability to shape someone’s voice to the point where an audio engineer can take credit for turning a normal conversation for example into a musical piece. Some would argue this practice as “cheating” or as something that lacks integrity. But we’ve been manipulating instruments and recordings for years why not voice? Why not art?

    Jason G.

  10.   Joshua Lindenbaum

    The idea of “phonotext” is quite interesting. Even as I write this response a voice is in my head. With this is mind, are we really reading silently? We are in the respect that no one can hear us, but we aren’t considering there is a voice in our heads’. It is impossible to read without hearing a voice in your head. How that voice sounds in one’s head is influenced by what they’re reading, how they read, and how they interpret the material.

    When the voice is separated from the body, as is the case with audio recording equipment, many times we are surprised by how our voices sound. That’s becasue we hear our voice either in our head, or from the mouth to the ear. but by recording the voice, one hears the voice outside of the body. The recorder becomes the boby, the body of one’s voice. This creates the possibility of transcending one’s voice through time.


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  • Listening “Literature” implies a written text. But what about the audiotext? Why do we refer to the “audience” (from the Latin audiens, listening) of a literary work? This course is about listening to literature and reading performance. ____________________________________
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