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Janek Schaffer, sound artist, and the awful silence.

January 14, 2010

The start of a another year. The end of another exhibition. The half-way point of my residency. A whole new set of anxieties.

The emphasis now has to be on production, I think. Of course I will be writing more poems and coming upon the discoveries that come with that exploration of new mental territory – but it certainly feels that there has to be a flatplan/storyboard drawn up soon, so I can begin to understand a little more about how to make the residency as a whole ‘work’.

I have so far struggled to make a cohesive piece of work reflecting my impressions and inspirations from the Janek Schaffer exhibition. It’s frustrating really, because my mind is going mental.

The technique used by Janek in his work that has most interested me has been that used to create ‘soundscapes’. This is because, I think that its collorlary in poetry, ‘found poetry’, ‘cut-up’, and, more recently ‘flarf’, have been at the centre or periphery of my work in this residency since the start.

In fact, the very first piece of interaction I completed for the Bluecoat’s was based on the old ‘magnetic poetry’ game, using cut-up words from the exhibition brochure teamed with words about profound religious experiences, driving the participants in the game to a certain style or voice in their poems. The result was pretty nice, I thought, although there wasn’t a masterpiece in there! All the same, it is a good lesson to learn that with cut-up and exercises like this, the source text has to have a relevance to the final work. There are also similarities in the reprocessing methods in my mistranslation poems, and in some of the work I have been making during conversation with visitors to the Bluecoat galleries.

In Janek’s Triptych, he ‘cuts-up’ an old folk song that has a special relevance to the subject of his piece – in fact, splitting it’s component instrumentation apart – and then spends time considering how the pieces can come back together in a way that embellishes on the feeling of the work, rather than simply distorting the original emotion of the song. Something of Janek’s feeling about the original song is transmitted to us through his treatment of it. In National Survey, the issue of fragmentation is central. The component pieces are played back in random orders, giving the impression of several televisions being frantically flicked through – one last frantic grasp to catch everything that is on tele before it is switched off!

In my poems during this period, I have been playing with the source material for my poems in a way I would more correlate to the Triptych method – feeling that it would not become any of us if I produced a piece of poetry that was words picked at random from the radio. However…!

The central work I have been trying to complete has been The Things We Say To Each Other And The Things You Say To Me, which is a poem project for many people to take part in, and relies on individuals getting round to sending me their reported speech, which I would then rearrange into a cohesive whole. With reference to the sense of gratitude in Triptych, I asked people to tell me some of the things they say to each other during ‘intimate moments’, classed simply as early in the morning or late at night. As I might have guessed, despite some fantastic support from the local press, there weren’t really enough submissions to make this project worthwhile. Staff at the Bluecoat were forthcoming, however, and I did get the poem for their Christmas cards from this method.  Was an okay poem.

Anyway.  With Slow Magic, and to an extent with Under the Volcano, the way that I approached the final poem was in the most part an emotional response to the work rather than a rational one.  I think my emotional response to Janek’s work is more muted, because I think his perspectives do not jar on me in the way of some artworks – I think the overwhelming ‘sense’ about how his best works hang together – the simple idea that produces a presentation perfect in all its aspects – is something that maybe doesn’t necessarily translate best to a poem, or that I haven’t yet found that idea, that poem.

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