“Being in the moment of this world”
Larry Wendt (1946, Napa, California) is a ‘low tech’ electronic composer who was active at the San Jose State University since 1971, where he got involved in Text Sound/Sound Poetry compositions from the mid 1970s on. For most of his electronic manipulations, he used his ‘hand-built’ self-developed DSP micro processors.
The four limited edition cassettes he released between the mid and late 1970s are now re-released on vinyl by Vinyl-on-demand.
You worked at San Jose State University. Can you tell me what you did there?
The job changed as I worked there, though most generally what I did, could be best described as providing “technical support” for the college’s “educational mission.” I came to San Jose State College (as it was known then) as a student in 1964. I started working for the Chemistry Department in 1970 as a “storeroom keeper”: checking out laboratory glassware, keeping inventories of supplies, preparing chemical samples and reagents for the laboratory classes in organic chemistry, and other similar “chores.” I was fortunate to obtain quite a bit of experience doing chemistry starting in my freshman year, as a student assistant in organic chemistry research headed by one of the professors in the Department who had research grants for several projects. I “worked my way through college” by doing this kind of work. After about nine years working as a storeroom keeper for the Chemistry Department in the School of Science, I applied and obtained a position as an electronic technician that both the Chemistry and Meteorology Departments shared. While in that situation I learned to setup, operate, maintain, and repair a wide variety of scientific instruments, as well as to improvise with various circuit designs to solve unique needs within the departments. When the position of electronic technician opened up in the Music Department in 1981, I applied for it and obtained the job.
I was already active as a sound poet by that time and had hoped for a position to open up in Music which would be closer to my developing interests rather than working in Chemistry. For several years though, the on-campus Audio-Visual Department had taken care of any of the electronic needs that the Music Department had, which was mainly just classroom playback systems for teaching and the equipment required for the recording of concerts for some years in the past. At the time I applied for the position, it was common at the college for specific divisions to be responsible for the technical support for those educational areas (such as the humanities in general) which lacked professional technical skills. Specifically, this support was in the form of not only maintaining and repairing the existing audio equipment but also specified what model and brand of electronic equipment that the department needed to buy for their specific needs. Music wanted more autonomous control over their hardware and argued that their electronic instrument needs were becoming just as specialized and unique as their acoustical music instruments for which they had already an independent technical position for several years as well as piano tuner/technicians. Finally, the “powers that be” allowed the Music Department to create the post.
Even though I was initially a Chemistry major the first several years as a student at San Jose State, I also had an interest in electronic music since hearing it for more or less the first time when I came to college in 1964. I had been active as an electronic hobbyist since my childhood. My father was an itinerate electronic tinkerer in his spare time off from being a welder for a large construction and prefab plant in the town of Napa where I was born and grew up. He was also an Amateur Radio “enthusiast,” obtained his General Class FCC license, and was active many years as a “Ham” radio operator communicating to similarly minded individuals and hobbyist throughout the world of communication.
As a child, I got to “tear things apart” for my father, to salvage and sort the various parts for possible use in repairs and other projects. I experimented and built simple electronic devices throughout my childhood and up into my high school years. Most of the friends and school chums which I made also shared this interest. I belonged to an Explorer Scout Troop in my last years of high school, which was sponsored by Bell Telephone Labs. Aside from visiting various Bell Phone facilities and early nineteen sixties semiconductor and electronic manufacturing plants, we had this project that we all worked on as a group: which was the building of an amateur “radio telescope.” This project was in part inspired by several of us reading an article about what was necessary to perform such a function, published in the “Amateur Scientist” column (“required reading” for any young aspiring scientist at that time) of Scientific American. Eventually, my generation of “colleagues” all went off to various colleges when we graduated from high school and left the Explorer organization. I found out much later that the generation of Bell Telephone Explorers that succeeded us eventually did complete the plans for our radio telescope and had gotten it to work.
Despite these experiences, I viewed electronics more as a hobby rather than a possible means of employment. However, while I was still going to college and working in chemistry, I continued to “fool around” with electronics, reading hobbyist magazines mostly. My interests in electronic music also developed as I learned and found out more information about that area of artistic expression. I had very little interest in the Arts and Humanities throughout my childhood years. I had decided at an early age that I wanted to be a scientist when I “grew up.” Having no formal music training at all, I started learning about electronic music in particular: I would often go to concerts and lectures devoted to that subject whenever the Music Department would present such things. I was indeed a “fan” of this material who knew hardly anything about its history or the aesthetics of it when I started this interest. I just liked the sound of it. I began reading publications like Bernie Hutchins’ Electronotes Newsletter (and any other similar documents about this subject that I would come across at random) which was a newsletter about the design and building of voltage-controlled (primarily) electronic music instruments, most of which were too difficult or expensive for me try. I also started reading some things about its history and theory of contemporary music and very slowly acquired some basic knowledge about the subject, despite also pursuing my primary course of study in Chemistry in those years.
As microprocessor-based personal computers became popular, I bought a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1 computer in the early seventies and started dealing with that technology. While still in High School, during my last year, I was taught the basics of computer programming (in octal binary no less) by a representative of the Control Data Corporation. The company supported this type of education to a select group as an outreach program to interest high school students in pursuing a career in computer engineering which had begun to expand rapidly, and there was a shortage of engineers in this area. The class was a volunteer evening course with no credit or payment other than our interests in such things. At the end of the training, we got to go to Palo Alto, on a Saturday field trip to their company site. The primary purpose of the visit was for us to get to run the programs that we had written as a class project. However, the paper tape machine on which we had to print our programs broke down before any of us could get our programs into a form that the early mainframe that they were going to allow us to use could process. My program which I had written with a classmate and which was “debugged” in class discussions like the other students’ programs, was to determine the trajectories of two balls striking one another.
Later, while in college, I took a class in “Computer Programing for Scientists” in which I learned the basics of the FORTRAN language on a hand-me-down, IBM 1620 mainframe which the computer division of the engineering department had at that time. I spent many overnight sessions in that computer lab, unjamming torn and mutilated punch cards from the machine’s worn out bulk card reader, that I had spent hours typing up. Probably why my interests in computing wained for a few years before the technology moved up a little more beyond my level of frustration with it. One of my first “electronic” jobs, when I started working for Meteorology, was to repair an old computer paper tape reader (along with an old 9-track data tape drive that the department had stored years of meteorology data upon before they figured out that the heads were misaligned).
I had also gotten interested in doing sound poetry a few years before obtaining my first “personal computer.” I had been building simple analog electronic music equipment at the beginning of my sound poetry work as well as bought an inexpensive home stereo tape recorder (and a few more open-reel decks after that) on which to record and manipulate my works.Later, I eventually “hacked” my TRS-80 and interfaced it with some A/D and D/A converters to process my voice. The device had the sound quality reminiscent of “cutting through a bucket of ball bearings with a hacksaw.” I suppose that was some of the “charm” of my work.
Regardless, I did use my TRS-80 based system, before I built a replacement, for performances when I was just starting out. A friend and my co-worker in Meteorology made a large plywood case which I carried my “gear” around with me (and which probably led to some of my back problems in subsequent years) to Toronto and New York as well as my first visit to Europe as a performer. It was not long after doing that when I replaced the TRS-80 with a Z-80 based computer which I designed and wire-wrapped from the necessary components and which I programmed in Z-80 machine language. It was a bit smaller and therefore easier to take with me when I traveled to performances.
Such, apparently crude equipment however also provided concrete examples that I could do the job of an electronic technician for the Music Department. I was probably given the position in the Music Department because I had an “insider’s advantage” of working for the university, as well as being a student, and was quite familiar with the campus culture and procedures. That the position paid less than similar kinds of work in the “outside” industries probably had something to do with possibly more qualified individuals applying for the position.
Most of the equipment that the Music Department owned at that time was either tube-based or early transistor based “home stereo systems” for the playback of audio material in the classroom. Very little “professional quality” equipment in fact. Mostly, a lot of very worn-out, old, and “sad” pieces of equipment in reality. They also had an old Langevin mixing console in the Concert Hall. It was very early modular, transistor-based, system which was an antique even back in 1981 when I first started working at the department. The Jazz Studies area of the Music Department had just converted one of the classrooms into a make-shift “recording studio” with a small Teac Model 5 mixer, some inexpensive Shure SM-58 microphones, and an ancient Ampex half-track, 1/4” tape recorder. The wall which separated the performance area from the “recording studio” (essentially a long narrow room that had been a faculty office) had a hole punched into it with a blanket over it through which the “engineer” could view as well as communicate with those that they were attempting to record. There was also a nascent electronic music studio with some more old Ampex tape recorders and an ancient Model 100 Buchla Synthesizer, a newer Series 200/300 Buchla, and a Buchla “Music Easel.” The 200/300 series synthesizer had an interface to an Ohio Scientific single board computer for control which a Music student had constructed and written a controlling language.
During this era at the college, control of all computer acquisition, specifications, operations, and maintenance work was under the domain of the computer division of the campus School of Engineering. This form of oversight and authority made it very difficult for the various academic departments on campus to develop computer resources for their specific needs, which required time-wasting efforts dealing with “the rules” as well as having meetings about what “the rules” actually were: they were a major bottleneck. Also, this dictatorial computer policy organization within the College “hated” the new microprocessor-based personal computers for being “unprofessional” equipment, and preferred that the whole campus use terminals connected to the mainframe somehow (this was way before the internet too). If a department tried to buy a microprocessor-based computer, even on private research grants, the Computer division would come over and confiscate it. Ironically, the college was in “the heart of Silicon Valley” which was beginning to receive much attention about how it was “changing the world” at that time but not at San Jose State.
Music had been able to get the Ohio Scientific SBC by calling it something that related it to a musical instrument on the purchase order. Its actual description and function had to be kept quiet outside of the Department, in fear of confiscation if found out. Eventually, these draconian tactics ended during my early years working in Music, primarily due to the coordinator of the Jazz Studies program, who knew the influential state legislator for our area. The legislator wrote a letter to the campus president who soon “modernize” the policies in this area.
The student who had interfaced the SBC with the Buchla was Daniel Kelley. He was also a member of the selection committee that interviewed me for the position. He asked me some pretty tough questions on voltage-controlled, quadrature oscillator design which I awkwardly bluffed my way through. One of the first things I did when I got the position was to hire Dan to be my assistant. His skills in design and construction far exceeded my own, and I learned a whole lot about how to do my job from him. He eventually left to get a “real job.” However, we continued to collaborate on projects together and have remained good friends since.
For the next 30 years or so that I worked there, San Jose State became San Jose State University, and the Music Department became the School of Music and Dance. In the process of continually modernizing all the School’s equipment, we rebuilt and expanded the recording studios (separating a beginning studio and an advanced studio), and the Electro-Acoustic studios several times. I did a lot of repairs, installations, hand-wiring of patchbays and interfaces, maintenance of audio and guitar amplifying systems, all kinds of recording equipment, from wire recorders through the various open-reel and cassette machines, and then on to digital recording, control, synthesis, and editing systems. I provided amplified sound support as well as record and document the various recitals and concerts with students and faculty that was required for accreditation purposes to present throughout the academic year. I also ushered in computers for music education and various studio uses, as well as administrative and faculty use: This included the establishment of a computer “lab” for Music Education and a Digital Signal Processing Studio. The beginnings of the DSP studio consisted of a Digital Music Systems DMX-1000, a “hand-me-down” PDP-11 clone, and a Silicon Graphics Workstation. The advent of computers also included desktop support, networking, database programming, website servers, etc., and system administration setups and maintenance throughout the various functional units within the Music building. I provided technical advisement, direction, and support for a wide variety of “special events” which the Department hosted, including the 1992 International Computer Music Festival. Finally, if it had an electrical plug or a cable, I was usually the one responsible for it.
Like any complex organization, The School of Music and Dance had its ups and downs. There were always issues of inadequate funding, and so many things had to be established by improvising and repurposing with what we had. There was still the great potential to get beyond ourselves and build a world-class center for music education. Aside from the lack of resources to fulfill our wishes and fantasies, there were niches of constraint and resistance, between the old guard and the young “outlaws” that went beyond the personalities and behaviors of the individuals which worked there. Employees would come and go, but as a construct that resembled a metastable ecology of contradictions, the niches of difficulties continued to be filled: new faces but the same old problems. The young recruits replaced the old guard, and a new batch of rebels and outlaws, who were going to change the system would come in and fall into the same patterns of conformity. Not only were these ever-unchanging static dominance hierarchies occurring within Music, but there was also problems of upper administration in the pecking order continually imposing new rules and regulations. The University was always attempting to represent itself as a complete and internally consistent educational facility. However, a clarified notion of what its mission was, was never quite adequately articulated or achievable. And as in similar institutions elsewhere and in all eras of times, academic politics continued to be a form of murder.
I finally retired in 2009 after 39 years as an employee at the University. I was still at the “top of my game” and was one of the last of the old-time technicians there. I had experiences in many different kinds of jobs by then. I had become skilled at “making do with what we had” as well as bricolage. I never considered myself an “expert” at any of these things. We old-time technicians had little regard for anyone who declared themselves an “expert ” As we use to say: “an ‘expert’ was someone who is more than five miles away from their home.” That I “wore so many different hats” made my position difficult to replace, and I came back to Music for about a year as a contract worker to help out. My duties were eventually split up among three other positions. Music lost a lot of autonomy over its technical support as the University reestablished a more unified control of technical services. As always the “push-pull battles” between the professors and staff “in the field” and the “powers that be” in upper administration continued to be waged there.
Were you a colleague of Allen Strange?
Allen was my electroacoustics instructor and then my “boss”.
When I first came to San Jose State in 1964, I had to take a class in “Music Appreciation” as part of the “General Education” requirement which the college had then. One day in that class, the recently hired Jazz instructor gave a lecture about current trends in Jazz to the class: Dwight Cannon, who had been a trumpet player in several Chicago Jazz bands in the 1950’s as well as being a studio musician before becoming a teacher and coming to San Jose State. He was hired by the Music Department to develop a Jazz program within the Music Department which eventually culminated in a degree in Jazz Studies, the first in the California State College System. Along the way, Dwight developed an award-winning Jazz Band. He also taught a course on 20th Century Music one semester, which I took after I had started working in the Chemistry storeroom. It was a survey course that covered music and material that I was emostly unaware at that time. Dwight also directed students doing stuff that was becoming more and more experimental, conceptual and avant-garde in performances held in the Music Concert Hall and elsewhere on campus, which I started to attend occasionally.
Dwight had been working on getting a graduate degree at UC San Diego which is where he met Allen Strange and talked him into coming up to San Jose to develop an Electroacoustics program. I was an avid reader of a music journal at that time created by the composer, Larry Austin: Source: Music of the Avant-Garde. In one of the issues, it had an article about Allen who was an active composer and performer of electroacoustic music as well as in the graduate program at UC San Diego studying under Pauline Oliveros and Robert Erickson. I went to see Allen, during his first year at San Jose State (around 1970). I asked him if there was ever going to be a degree in Electro-Acoustic Music at San Jose State (and what I might have to do to get into such a program). However, he told me that it was doubtful because of the lack of funding, as well as the lack of support from the rest of Music’s “educational mission” which preferred more traditional approaches to music education.
Despite the unlikely event that the teaching of an electronic music class would ever occur at San Jose State, I enrolled in the first class Allen taught in the Music Department on voltage-controlled synthesis a few years later. He had just finished his first book, Electronic Music Systems, Techniques, and Controls, as well as managed to obtain a Buchla series 100 synthesizer with relatively no budget to teach such a class. The synthesizer had been bought by a local rock band several years before and stored in a garage for some years. It was in a deplorable state and had an actual rat’s nest within. Somehow Allen got Don Buchla to repair it, and it was housed in a closet within the Music Building for some time and only available to individual students as a sort of “research project.”
Allen finally got a bigger room in which he could hold a class of several students at once, and that is when I took the course (around 1972 or so). I had been attending the recitals and performances that Allen, Dwight, and their students had done while I was still working in Chemistry and would occasionally volunteer to help tear down the equipment after a concert. So they became acquainted with me “hanging around.”
Later, though before I started working for Music, I became involved in an “alternative” art gallery in downtown San Jose in the late 1970’s. I managed to talk Allen with his electroacoustic performance group of that time, the Electric Weasel Ensemble (Allen Strange, Pat Strange, David Morse, Donald Buchla, and Stephen Ruppenthal) to perform during the opening of this gallery. Obtaining an adequate sound system for the performance was a daunting task. The Music Department did not have any solid, “movable,” performance sound system that was usable in other locations other than the Music Building. However, I managed to borrow a couple of large Klipsch Cornwall speakers from a guy who lived in my apartment building and along with my two, tiny KLH speakers and a couple of home stereo systems, I cobbled a sound system together. Thinking back that we did not blow out one of those borrowed speakers was probably very lucky. However, I did have to sleep in the gallery that night before the concert when the equipment was all set-up to guard against any robbery of the sound system or the Buchla Music Easels that the EWE had along with their amplified acoustical instruments. Having an adequate sound system in a “pop-up” gallery space was something of a nuisance then (as it probably still is). When I started doing performances of my text-sound work, which also depended heavily upon electroacoustic amplification in a space not explicitly designed for it, it was also always an issue.
When the technician position opened in Music, Allen was in Europe and not on the selection committee. However, Dwight Cannon was but not as familiar with my capabilities. He had another person in mind for the position. However, this person was outside of the college system and became disinterested in the job when he discovered how low the salary was going to be. So I luckily got the job and was pretty tired of working for Chemistry by then as well.
Of course, the job was not without its beginning difficulties at first particularly since the Music Department never had a specialized staff member focused on the electronic support before. Like most academic departments on the campus, Music was in divisive conflicts between the various divisions, and the traditionalists saw my position as a power play by the younger faculty to take over their programs. However, I had already seen this occur in my years in Chemistry and Meteorology, and I made it clear from the start that I worked for the University, not just Allen and Dwight.
Also, there was a problem with no tools or supplies for doing my job in the building. My office was a small closet in which I had only a folding chair, my Swiss Army knife, and a little pair of diagonal cutters that I managed to “borrow” from Meteorology to do my job. There was a minimal budget from which I could start to order some tools and supplies to create the beginnings of a small electronic repair shop as well. However, over the years I became very adept at “scrounging” and “borrowing” equipment from other areas on campus and improvising ways to do more with less.
Individually, I worked with Allen closely over the years realizing many of his educational projects with whatever funds and donations which he could scrape together to improve the facilities. The Electroacoustic studio continued to expand with more commercially available synthesizers and software MIDI instrument editing and control. The recitals and concerts also became a lot more complicated affairs using much of the equipment in the building not tacked down and taking many hours to set-up, take down and restore to the teaching studios before the next classes. Many of these I was active both as audio/technical engineer as well as a performer doing my own “compositions.” Despite all the rules and regulations, we did do a lot of “unusual” concerts: including dragging a car (without the engine or wheels) onto the small Music Concert Hall stage. It was then covered with contact microphones, and allowing it to be “played” with hammers, drills, and saws and processed with live electronics. We were also able to eventually put together a more mobile sound system which allowed Electroacoustics and Jazz performances with un-borrowed equipment to go outside of the Music building. This mobility also allowed the instructors to hold clinics and workshops off campus as well.
When Allen became the president of the International Computer Music Association, we hosted the 1992 International Computer Music Festival at SJSU. The festival was a week-long event of presentations of technical papers plus two concerts a day. I was the technical director of course, and I had four of our best graduate students in Music as my primary team as well as several other students (and former students) to help us out. Through Allen’s contacts and connections, we manage to borrow thousands of dollars worth of audio equipment (for which I had to sign my life away if it got damaged or stolen) from a professional production audio supplier in the area. With the help of a member of the ICMA, we put together a large, and complex, multiple speaker arrays, known as a “diffusion system” common in Europe. This “instrument” included two large mismatched audio mixing desks strapped together to control an array of amplifiers connected to the speakers. Such performance systems were not so common for American Electro-Acoustic performances at that time (one was lucky to have four speakers rather than over a dozen). We had to pull out a whole row of seats in the turn-of-the-century campus auditorium to place the mixing desks from where the composer could “perform” his work on DAT tape through the speaker array. We also managed to borrow about six NeXT computers for various playbacks and demonstrations. However grueling it may have been (with me ending up with a stress fracture in my foot from all the heavy lifting and running around), this event was probably the high point of my technical career at the University.
Allen retired from Music in 2002 and passed away in 2008. The programs that he developed slowly came to an end like a large bus coasting down a hill after the engine stopped working. The College of Music and Dance also reverted to more traditional focuses of study. By 2009 it was time for me to leave and retire. My last significant project for the School with to set up and program a sophisticated content management system upon which to host their website. A couple of years later, the Unversity took control of the operation and design of all sites throughout the campus. They, of course, wanted unified control of the presentation of University’s “educational mission” to the outside world.
How did get into sound poetry?
When I came to San Jose State as a freshman in 1964, I was virtually illiterate in the humanities and the arts. I grew listening to the stuff my folk’s listened to -- country western pop singers (Hank Williams, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Les Paul and Mary Ford, etc.). As I grew older and had gotten a radio of my own, I listened to early rock ‘n roll and “novelty” songs (like Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater,” Ross Bagdasarian’s “Witch Doctor,” and his “chipmunk” songs when he became known as David Seville). I was particularly enamored with music which included unique effects or sounds such as Toni Fisher’s 1959 rendition of “The Big Hurt” which was the first to use “flanging” or the electric guitar effects in Jørgen Ingmanns’s 1961 cover for “Apache”.
For reading material, aside from the many electronic hobbyist magazines and Scientific American, I read a lot of natural history and guidebooks on geology and rock collecting as well as about amphibians and reptiles mostly. Then there was also science fiction, “Uncle Scrooge” comic books and early Mad magazine. I mainly was unaware that there was anything else that was of any significance for me to read or listen too.
That changed when in my first few months away from home and living in a college boarding house in San Jose. A Music Department graduate student played a record he had just checked out of the music library that he said was a “comedy album.” It turned out to be Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge. Unlike the graduate student, I was not making derisive remarks about it. I had never heard anything like it before and was fascinated by it. I wanted to learn more. However, this was way before the internet and big box record stores, San Jose appeared to be lacking even a “good” old style record store with a wide selection of things in which one could go into, listen to the records, and discover new things. It did not help that I was Chemistry Major and did not know even where to look. Therefore, it took me a long time to find out about this sort of thing by myself, and I was a very slow learner indeed.
The SJS Library had an extensive music library but not that much contemporary experimental music. However, I did listen to a lot of Folkways record anthologies of rural American music and recordings of indigenous people while paying close attention to the “unusual” vocal music. John Cage had come to the campus occasionally and gave lecture/concerts in the Music Building during my early years there. I enjoyed his work a lot and started reading whatever I could find that he had written.
However, the primary source of information for me was Charles Amirkhanian’s “Ode to Gravity” programs on KPFA radio. I would listen to his Radio programs religiously as well as record them to listen to the material several times. He also talked about various avant-garde music publications such as Source Magazine, EAR Magazine (both the West and East Coast New Music publications), etc. which I managed to obtain several issues and read thoroughly. It was from Charles’ programs that I first learned about sound poetry and text-sound compositions in particular. I was especially interested in his interviews with other European sound poets that he visited and in which they talked in detail about aspects of their work. Also, around this time and a few years before, I had begun to read a lot of other different kinds of literature and poetry along with such journals as The Evergreen Review, Alcheringa (Dennis Tedlock’s and Jerome Rothenberg’s, Journal of Ethnopoetics) and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E.
In the late sixties, I finally changed my major to English after nearly completing a degree in Chemistry; however, art had become my passion by then. Not only did I start reading histories of earlier twentieth-century art movements such as the Futurists and Dadaists, but also took several survey course in English and American literature attempting to catch up for my lack of reading such things when I was younger. I became a big fan of James Joyce and read all of his books. By that time though, I was also married and working full-time in the Chemistry Department.
I had worked my way through college in my early years by being a research assistant for a Chemistry professor who had sufficient grant monies to hire students to do the more routine laboratory work. That job came to an end eventually, and I had to find another means of support. Education also became more expensive over the years, and I had a wife to support as well, so I had to get a full-time job and take classes at night. I was also able to move my hours around (alternating working 10 hours and 6 hours a day) to allow me to go to class during the day.
It was in one of the seminars I took on Finnegans Wake where I met Stephen Ruppenthal, who just happened to be Allen Strange’s graduate student. He was also in Allen’s voltage control synthesis class (though as a graduate student, he had earlier access to the Department’s Buchla synthesizer). Steve was an accomplished trumpet player keen on composition and electronic music. He was a member of Allen’s Electric Weasel Ensemble and owned one of Don Buchla’s Electric Easel (a small, voltage-controlled analog synthesizer). He was also writing his Master’s Thesis on the music of sound poetry. My wife at the time had known Steve in high-school as well. With all these connections between us, it was not long before we were friends. He opened up another world for me with his contacts and resources. I obtained from him copies of a lot of the literature which concerned sound poetry, both printed and recorded. We would also often go up and see sound poetry and electro-acoustic performances in San Francisco and Berkeley during this time. He introduced me to Charles Amikhanian who was on his thesis review committee. It was an instructive time for me of discovery and exploration.
We had even talked about doing a book about sound poetry and text-sound together, and though we did write a long article together, our other obligations of trying to make a living made a whole book a lot less feasible. We did, however, co-produce a three-day event (along with painter and performance artist, Dominic Alleluia) in San Francisco in 1977 in which we hosted performances by several local performers and the Canadian Sound poetry group, The Four Horsemen. We also had tape recordings from several European sound poets that we contacted using some of Steve’s contact information which he obtained while he was researching and writing his thesis (completed by that time) as well as tapes and contacts that Charles had. We called our little festival “The First West Coast International Text-Sound Festival” and as modest as it was (and put together with no budget), it was a success and got us both invited to the Eleventh International Sound Poetry Festival held in Toronto in 1978.
I had just started doing performance pieces to augment my tape work by this time, as well as using “real-time” electronics (for the Toronto performance, an amplified ring modulated microphone built inside an Army surplus gas mask). That festival also gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with many of the practitioners of the art form which I had been corresponding with as well as come to hold in high regard as a “fan” of their work. This Festival was a remarkable event for me to be able to attend.
Earlier, during my first trip to Europe in 1975, I was still pretty much just another fan of sound poetry. I was very unsure of my abilities and possibilities of ever becoming a creative person (much less an actual text-sound composer). I had started corresponding to several of the Europeans using Steve’s contacts asking pages of many questions. Such communications were before email took over, and though I did not realize it at the time, it was the last gasp of a form of epistolary correspondence, that provided great potential for learning and exchanging ideas. If there was anything which I did in my early “training” as a sound poet “wannabe” aside from reading and studying all the historical and critical literature as well as hearing and seeing the actual performances of it, it was this extensive amount of correspondence.
While in London, I knocked on the door of Bob Cobbing’s home, thinking it was the offices of Writer’s Forum, which I believed to be Cobbing’s “publishing firm” (not realizing that most of the Writer’s Forum publications were “handmade” and “hand assembled”). From Steve’s archives, I was familiar with some of the things that this English poet had done both with his work as well as presenting the actions of others and the histories of older generations of practitioners of this kind of conceptual language art. Part of my whole reason for going to Europe that first time, was in hopes of finding recordings and literature that I did not know how to find in America even if it were available somewhere.
Bob was quite amenable and invited me to attend the sound poetry workshop that he held once a week in London. So I came back that evening and watched several of the people attending do short pieces which were then critiqued by the others. It reminded me of some the creative writing classes that I had taken. I also met Lawrence Upton and Clive Fencott, who were more or less my age but established and very active young sound poets who also held fascinating notions about sound poetry theory and its performance which they explored in their work. I did indeed pick up an armload of publications and records on that trip. When I came back home to San Jose, and back to work in Chemistry, I made the realization then that I no longer wanted to be just a fan or some autodidactic dilettante who occasionally wrote a critical essay or two. I wanted to be a sound poet: that the trajectory of my whole life had brought me to this specific point.
Who were the people who inspired you at the time: Charles Amirkhanian, Kenneth Gaburo, Carl Stone?
Well, of course, Charles Amirkanian as mentioned in the question above. Not only did I listen to his radio programs, but also attended several of his performances. He often performed with his wife, Carol Law, as well as other sound and language artists, including Anthony J. Gnazzo, whom I also got to know. Tony also had a long history as a recording engineer and working as an electronic technician in the nascent Bay Area electronic music scene back then. He gave me some beneficial advice when I first started out working for the Music Department at SJS.
I was familiar with some of Kenneth Gaburo’s through Allen and Dwight. Allen had studied with him for a time as well. However he was more of a musical theorist I thought, and I had become more familiar through Charles’ radio programs with the works of the Swedish text-sound composers associated with the Fylkingen organization, and the French, particularly the work of Henri Chopin, Bernard Heidsieck and François Dufrene. Carl Stone’s work I was not familiar with until some time later when I met him at a poetry performance in which we were part of the program at a gallery in Los Angeles.
My “inspirations” and “influences” are hard for me to pin down I have discovered, I seem to be influenced by whatever I am “into” at any particular time, particularly if I grasp “resonances” and similarities with other things which I have learned about or studied. The genealogy of one inspiration to another often becomes confused or muddled in my mind after a length of time, and I know my comprehension of things were only as good as the last piece I was able to construct.
Indeed, I did continue to listen to more of Stockhausen’s work as well as other electronic music composers that Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) had published in the late nineteen sixties and seventies which I could obtain. I also eventually did see a “live” performance of Stockhausen’s Hymnen (1969) for four-channel tape and orchestra at the Round House on August 18, 1975, during my first trip to London. The use of shortwave sounds in this piece was fascinating for me because of their raw distortions and immediacies (and as a teenager, I spent long hours listening to a shortwave radio that my father had built for me). I also became familiar with musique concrete works which I could find by the INA-GRM (Institut National Audiovisuel, Groupe de Recherches Musicales) and associated record labels, beginning with Pierre Schaffer and early experimenters to the work of Luc Ferrari, whose use of “found” and environmental sounds significantly inspired me.
Another early influence upon me while I was playing “catch up” of musical literature, was the 20th-century composer, Lou Harrison, who just happened to be an adjunct faculty member of the Music Department around the time I wanted to learn more about music. A significant American composer who had a long history with people like Charles Ives and John Cage his survey classes on World Music, as well as the music of American Composers, were definitely “inspirational.” Lou also had much to say about a life devoted to art as well.
Much later, on my various trips to Europe as a sound poet, I also got to “crash” on the couch or in spare bedrooms. In particular, I got to stay with Clive Fencott, Lily Greenham, Henri Chopin, and Bernard Heidsieck at their homes and had a great time talking about sound poetry for hours.There were many others of course at the various concerts and festivals which I attended that allowed me to see them in performance as well as to talk with at some length about their work. I could include a long laundry list of names here, but it still would not be inclusive. However, many of these individuals had a profound influence on me, and I consider myself very lucky to have been able to observe and learn from them. It was indeed an excellent apprenticeship for me to be able to do this.
I also stayed at the Logos Foundation in Ghent. A taxi driver called it a “funny little institute” once when I came into town. Logos was a remarkable place for experimental music and research in Belgium. The two founders; Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge, started the center in 1968 and it is still very active now. They built their concert hall by hand (with Godfried tying himself to a girder and welding the metal frame and sheets together with a small “buzz box” no less) to precise dimensions calculated for perfect acoustics for new music and electroacoustic presentations. Godfried is also one of the best electronic and digital instrument builders that I have had the good fortune to know. Among his many acoustical and electro-acoustical invention, he has constructed a large robot orchestra (“the largest fully automated acoustic orchestra in the world”).Godfried and Moniek also visited me in San Jose and did performances that I arranged at the college. Certainly, their work sets a high-water mark for me in “hand-made” hybridization of art with technology.
Working at the university also gave me a chance to meet practitioners of all sorts of new music and with whom I had the opportunity to talk to about their work. Visitors to Music Department is how I first met Lily Greenham as well as Trevor Wishart, who Allen had invited to the college. Also, after my trips to Europe, and attending various sound poets and text-sound composers there, my position in Music, also gave me the opportunity to provide a venue for composers such as Henri Chopin and Sten Hanson for performances and lectures when they were in the Bay Area. After a performance by Bob Cobbing and Clive Fencott, I was able to get the funding to bring them back for a week-long workshop for the students in sound poetry. We even got to work on a couple of pieces together as I had done with Henri Chopin during his visits. Indeed being able to spend some time with this individuals was a big boost to my understanding of the art and the ways of working. Similarly, I got to spend time in long conversations in San Jose with Dick Higgins, Jackson MacLow, John Giorno, Bern Porter, Jerome Rothenberg, Jaap Blonk, and others who would drop by when they passed through the area.
Through my activities and from Steve’s contacts initially, I also got to know the sound art publisher, Jan Van Toorn; the publisher, theorist, and performer Enzo Minarelli; the German archivist, Christian Scholz; and the publisher and the critic and theorist Nicholas Zurbrugg. Later, I managed to meet Jan at a sound poetry festival in Switzerland. I met Enzo finally when he came to San Jose State for a lecture/performance of his work. And I was able to visit Christian a few times over the years and spent several days talking about his archive as he showed me an overwhelming amount of rare material that he had collected. We also traded stuff back and forth for years. When I first got involved with working on projects with Steve, we had this notion about doing a book about sound poetry because there was so little written about it in English from our constrained point of view. However, after meeting Christian, we were overwhelmed how much was out there in several other languages, and how difficult it would be to deal with it rationally without a knowledge of those languages.
Nicholas Zurbrugg published a small, though very significant journal, Stereo Headphones, concerning sound poetry in particular while he was still going to graduate school in England. He received his education and doctorate as a literary scholar, could read and speak French fluently and wrote his thesis on a comparison of Marcel Proust with Samuel Becket. Nick knew Becket and interviewed him several times. He also worked for many years on a collection of interviews of contemporary composers, sound poets, and performance artists which he was never quite able to finish. Unfortunately, he passed away suddenly while still editing the work. It was published posthumously as Art, Performance, Media: 31 Interviews.
Nick had immigrated to Melbourne Australia, took a professorship in humanities there and continued his work in critical articles and lectures about sound poetry. He also helped organize a large international SOUND WORKS festival in Sydney in 1986 and invited me, Ellen Zweig, Charles Amirkhanian, and Carol Law to perform in it. I was in Australia for about month meeting many of the sound poets and composers who lived there. Nick would also often stay at my house when he traveled between Melbourne and London (taking plane routes that allowed him to circle the earth). We had many great discussions together, and like the others that I have known in this art but who are no longer with us, I dearly miss his friendship and inspiration.
Did you ever made a difference between language and electronics, or did you see it all as a sound?
Well, probably vocally articulated and manipulated “natural” sounds were more interesting to me. However, I was also interested where or if a boundary existed with purely synthesized sounds that could be mistaken for vocally produced sounds which were manipulated to sound like they were electronic in origin. I found out early though that it was much easier to create the later than the former.
The Z-80 device which I had built, primarily as a digital recorder with low storage capacity. The recorder allowed me to “chop” up the sound into random pieces and splice them together into four independent but simultaneous digital to audio channels which then had digitally controlled filter chips on each channel. The results of this manipulation were then mixed down using digitally controlled analog amplifiers and panned to random locations in a stereo field. I called the device an “audio meat grinder” since that is what it primarily was designed to do.
With this digital gear, it was much easier to “cut-up” words into fragments and “glue” them back together immediately rather than hand splicing fragments of tape together and waiting for the chore to be completed to hear the results. I remember at the time, having this notion of being able to extract certain features of spoken language much like removing and identifying the components of the electronic gear that I use to tear apart as a child. With these “components” of vocal sounds, I believed, I could also use their properties to control various aspects of how they should be electronically modified as well as provide the scheme of how they should be put back together. In other words, the acoustical structure of each fragment would define timbral modifications as well as the scheme to connect with other fragments. Such a process would require some criteria for their selection: where to “break” the vocal stream as well as a “sieve” function to sort the fragments based on tone, amplitude, timbre, etc. However, I did not have the abilities to fragment the words in a more precise and directed way much less how to program this process for the crude instrument which I had built. Certainly much more practical knowledge about the acoustics of language would be required. All I was able to do at that time, however, was to “smash” the voice sounds much like a hammer coming down upon a ceramic pot, then putting the fragments “back together” again at random. The process was similar to using cyanoacrylate glue to glue the shards of fragments together with the intention of producing something like an unusual abstract sculpture.
Would it be possible, however, to generate an entirely new language, devoid of any connection to significance (shredding Ferdinand de Saussure’s signifier/signified concept entirely)? It would still contain spoken voice sounds but their recombination in some organized pattern which would not resemble either language or music but the kind of “new art” which people like Henri Chopin theorized as poesie sonore. Sound as a dimension of poetry and music has a psychological and subjective significance built-up over hundreds and even thousands of years of human culture and behavior, and as such, it has created patterns of formality when it comes to the creation of what is “acceptable” in these art forms. The ways of working defined by these constraining patterns can become “ruts,” or “energy wells” preventing any escape from other possibilities of expression. Realizing that these patterns of formality mirror the culture which reflected them as metaphor and abstractions is the significant insight that 20th-century art in its various convolutions came to understand.
Not that what I was able actually to achieve was a “disappointment” or “bad thing” particularly. In such attempts to fragment speech, the sound of it was objectified, thereby causing the collapse of the personal subjectivity that spoken language signifies and therefore bringing speech back to its sonic immediacy as sound at the beginning of the cycle of articulation, where subjective abstraction starts all over again. The notion of an organizing architecture which was like a “frog pond of discrete noises” became apparent to me during this time and I used my sonic fragmentation processes towards creating that kind of compositional framework.
At the same time, I was using electronics to tear apart sounds; I started to experiment around with cutting up the syntax of written words, like Tzara pulling words from Shakespeare out of a hat, or the rediscovery of this method by Brion Gysin and elaborated upon by William Burroughs. It was relatively simple to write a computer program that selects words or groups of words from a text and mix them randomly with random “cut-ups” of other texts. I could generate an infinite amount of gibberish this way. However, I also was soon attracted to a process where I would “correct” the grammar and readability to create sentences which sounded more or less correctly when spoken aloud but were essentially nonsense. These kinds of texts would also inspire me to expand upon their nonsense and develop them into involved narratives. In turn, I became more interested in the spoken narrative structure and the ease at which one could nudge it off-track slightly to create confusions but at the same time as attempting to sound “reasonable” if spoken with conviction. The work, of course, was getting far afield I suppose of what sound poetry was traditionally about, and I was not particularly interested in becoming some radio theater monologist.
My trajectory to where I ended up fixated on this particular way of working, also exemplified the fact that sound-poetry exists in a grey area. It often is in the process of becoming something else, whether it be formal and structured extended vocal music, onomatopoeia, jazz scat, hollering, rap, primal screams, Cartoon voices, radio art, or like a tall tale one would hear in a noisy bar. Much later, after I had more or less finished with experimenting with these kinds of electronically aided and inspired techniques, I became aware of the mostly French Oulipo group of writers, mathematicians, and pataphysicians and had considered their work as an example of perhaps more fruitful avenues which I could have researched.
I also tend within my conscious realm of my interests, to spiral about: as if I were in a large circular hall containing an unknown number of mirrors which reflect aspects of themselves into one another. Each mirror being an idée fixe to which I will often return after some period like an orbiting comet but with a new point of view with each iteration about how to look at the thing, even if I had forgotten after such a length of time what it was that attracted me to thisdoxical reflection initially.
For most of your electronic manipulations, you used your self-invented digital equipment (the DSP processors). Can you tell me a bit more about the DSP processors you invented?
Though I did start to use microprocessor manipulation of my voice and sound material early in my career, I still used a lot of tape manipulations and analog equipment for filtering and reverberation. I hardly ever used voltage controlled synthesizers in my work and preferred to use either voice or environmental “natural” sounds. Even such things as simple “gating” I used tape loops made with bits of recordable tape spliced together with the plastic leader which was unrecordable. In my early work especially, I ascribed to a “low-tech” and “hand-built,” improvised, and “re-purposing” aesthetic out of financial limitations but soon discovered that it was also a viable and robust way of working that other sound artists had also efficiently pursued. However, when I met Dan Kelley, we pushed this aesthetic when we started designing a special purpose computer to perform sound manipulation in real time. Such a processor would have several advantages over my earlier and elementary Z-80 based system.
I knew that the sort of analog/digital hybrid “instrument” that I had put together could be implemented more effectively and precisely, in a completely digital domain and the construction of such a device would probably allow us to explore a wide variety of other processing and synthesis techniques as well. Both Dan and I started reading up on how to do this with “bit slice” chips which provided the necessary high-speed computational power commonly used in digital audio signal processing. We became familiar with this technology with the Music Systems DMX-1000 which the School of Music eventually obtained.
However, when the “new” Texas instrument TMS 32010 Signal Processing chip became available, it indicated that bit slice technology would soon be rendered obsolete for basic signal processing applications. The advent of such devices had probably more military and communications applications as the driving economic force behind its development as an integrated circuit at that time rather than “entertainment” needs. Dan came up with the design to access and use the Texas chip for music applications and we each wire-wrapped a prototype of the design. Dan also wrote the controlling program and some digital “instruments” using conventional digital synthesis algorithms. Dan used FORTH to write the program. I had been using FORTH for some time since my TRS-80 hacking days, and it appeared to be very useful for this sort of thing and was undoubtedly required a lot less code to write out compared to writing it all in machine code. Dan had become an outstanding master of that language besides many others over a relatively short period.
An acquaintance of ours christened the instrument “The Guided Missile Project” (GMP) during a lecture/demonstration of the device that we gave when he heard of the other uses of the DSP chip we were using. The chaotic “rat’s nest” of wire-wrap wire holding the thing together also added to the irony of this appellation. We controlled our DSP card, through a commercially made Z-80 single board computer that had the same footprint as a 5 1/4” floppy drive (hard drives were still way too expensive then). I could load the ZCPR3 (a UNIX-like extension of the CP/M operating system but very compact) along with the FORTH GMP control software from a single quad density floppy disk. I would use a standard keyboard and monitor to program my pieces into the GMP but also had constructed a simple push button keyboard with a series of LEDs to indicate which part of my sound manipulation program was active. Using Dan’s software environment, I programmed it to do pretty much the same thing as I had done with my Z-80 system, though with much better A/D and D/A converters. The quality of the sound was still not perfectly “clean,” but at least it was a lot clearer.
The system was small and compact and much more comfortable to pack away and take with me to use on performances that I had. Still, there were some difficulties. Since the device was fragile and handmade (and building a “proper” protective case for it would have added to its size and weight), it was prone to annoying breakdowns at inopportune moments. When one is doing a performance using electronics gear, failures of the equipment can bring the performance to a screeching and embarrassing halt. Then one has to improvise and attempts to get through the performance the best that they can. When the Motorola DSP 56000 chip came out, we reconfigured the GMP around that chip since it was a more powerful than the Texas chip. I had built a wire-wrap prototype first but continued to be plagued by breakdown misfortunes with it.
We also had some printed circuit boards made which eliminated some of the fragility of the wire wrapped version as well as dealt with the speed issue. The new chip was fast enough to exceed the limit of the frequency response that our wire-wrap could handle The PC boards were done by another individual using Dan’s plans but not following Dan’s instructions on what layout was needed for it to work efficiently as well as be expanded. It was therefore not what we wanted. However, this version was more reliable, and I used it for performances after that without any problems. Indeed, our “Guided Missle Project” was itself a moving target an was always in a state of revision.
As Dan got more “swallowed up” by his “real job” (as I with mine), there was less time to pursue the concepts of the GMP through the rapidly changing environment of technological innovations. However, in what little “spare time” that Dan has had since he has investigated the use and programming of ASICs for audio digital signal processing. He also started using a number of these embedded processor boards which contain a full-featured LINUX based computer in a tiny footprint for a variety of possible music uses. Whenever we do get a rare chance to get together for a meal and a “catch-up” session, I always am inspired for several days after to continue my work and studies with this kind of ever advancing technologies. I remain, however, a very slow learner. It is just a matter of priority, persistence, and perseverance, and I am a great one with getting distracted by several different interests at once.
Can I see your pieces as polyphonies?
I suppose so, though I was more interested in the individual voice that could become a multiple of itself, rather than multiple voices become one. I did like some sound poetry vocal groups, such as Bob Cobbing’s Konkrete Canticle (with Paula Clare and Michael Chant) and The Four Horsemen (Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery, bp Nichol, and Rafael Barreto-Rivera. Indeed, there is a multi-sonic architecture in my work. As I have become older, however, my window of attention in hearing has broadened where I hear “everything” – though not necessarily that I am entirely conscious of it, but instead I feel it.
Part of this is the result of hearing loss from a misspent youth (too much Jimi Hendricks and too little Erik Satie), particularly in the higher frequency ranges which helps one identify particular timbres. Having spent much of my professional career recording such things as college marching bands, big brass jazz bands, all percussion recitals, and painfully loud, Filipino Do-Wop groups over lousy speaker systems, it is a wonder that I can hear at all. Also, there was my own “joy” in listening to just sheer noise whether “organized” or not has but in retrospect must have indeed had its degenerative effects upon my hearing. However, my attention to all kinds of sounds in my environment also decreased my focus to specific sounds in favor of the context and “ecology” which the sounds existed in. This perception of an ever-emerging “sound ground” felt on an emotional level rather than a purely conscious level, is something I continued to try to grasp and articulate in my later works with varying degrees of success (or failure depending on my point of view at the time of finishing the composition). That my concepts of a piece often far exceed my results was also the engine that drove me to attempt to do more to “get it right.”
The Vinyl-on-demand box contains music you made between 1975 and 1979. Why these recordings?
Because most of this material was from audio cassettes (some of which I had located the original masters) and recordings which I had given (and traded to the German archivist, Christian Scholz. Frank Meyer, the founder of VOD, had acquired Christian’s archive at some point and had come across my work while putting together a large and complete anthology of Henri Chopin’s works. He noticed Henri and I had done a piece together. I was also a part of the “cassette culture” of the nineteen seventies and eighties as a way of distributing my work and making myself known for possible performances. A lot of these “releases” were done in 25 cassettes or even less and became exceedingly rare. Christian had copies of my work which I had more or less lost by misplacing them over the years. During those times I was always working on new pieces as I moved on from my old work (following a work ethic of “one’s work is only as good as the last piece that they have completed”). Frank selected material from these earlier cassettes. I had not paid that much attention to it, but my earlier work had been in the “traditional” sound poetry vein rather than the syntactical spoken narrative pieces that I moved towards in later work. Perhaps, at some point, an anthology of this work might be done as well.
Your first release is from 1975. You keep releasing material until 1990. Why did you stop releasing music after 1990?
I continued into the early 2000s attempting to generate enough new material for a CD. I had started to learn how to set up a home Digital Audio Workstation using the collection of open-source software known as Planet CCRMA and which had been collected and developed by Stanford University for their pedagogical programs in audio digital signal processing. However, as I approached retirement age, the demands of my job became more enveloping and all my “spare time” was swallowed up. Effectively, I ended up not completing my pieces or doing any more performances.
You’re 71 now. Does this mean you’re retired? What do you do these days?
Well, as indicated above, I have retired from my job, but I have not retired from life, even though I may be slouching towards impending decrepitude and disintegration. I am still “catching-up” on things which I would like to know and fill the never-ending gaps and correcting the many incomplete notions and confusions that I have, Many of the “inspiring” figures which I had followed in my life as an artist are no longer with us. As a friend of mine so succinctly and lovingly puts it, my generation is now nearing the edge of the cliff where the others before us have jumped off into oblivion.
My generation, “the Boomers”, was known for their “do-it-yourself” prototypes, and as such, we were a generation of “hackers”: we opened many doors to other approaches to life in general. -- some reckless and self-destructive while others were simply world-changing in their influence. It was not that our lives were “out of the pail,” nor were we happy living in a “better or more efficient pail,” but that we saw the “pail” as being non-existent and nothing more than a delusion and metaphor. Those steadily decreasing numbers of us who survived our era and have avoided falling into the pits of pain and misery, greed, narcissism, cynicism, and the sloth of “I can’t,” are still seeking and discovering the nature of our reality.
We aren’t all entirely done yet. In my specific case, acquaintances from the “old days” and different stages of my life, will occasionally pop up and visit me in San Jose on their way to someplace else (or else I will meet them somewhere nearby) and we will spend several hours “catching-up” on our discoveries. San Jose is not a completely isolated cultural backwater moldering in the shadow of San Francisco, as I sometimes like to poke fun of as well as rant about at length. I also have a group of dear companions, “old friends” and often visited acquaintances who are artists, musicians, poets, and well experienced deep thinkers with whom engage me in long serial discussions about aesthetics, practices, sciences, philosophies, and the theory of what is occurring “right now”.
After many years swallowed up by his job, Steve Ruppenthal had also retired and emerged again where we meet every so often, and talk about old times and new projects. Steve has just finished a CD with pieces written for him by various composers which make use of significant real-time digital processing: Flamethrower: new music for trumpet, flugelhorn & interactive electroacoustics (Revello Records / PARMA recordings # RR7954; March 10, 2017; North Hampton NH). He is also now a member of electroacoustic performance group SoundProof (with Brian Belet and Pat Strange), who have performed electroacoustic and text-sound pieces at various venues in Europe and the US.
That I had intended to get back into actually doing sound poetry, I have not been able to get off the ground and rebuild my studio to produce more work. Though I have managed to continue to read about and study the various works, philosophies, and antecedence of this kind of work along with continuing to explore the contexts of experimental literature and music in general, life has a way of catching up with one as well. I remember my father telling me before he passed away, how busy he was after he retired. He wondered aloud to me that he did not know how he ever got anything done when he was working.
I have been experiencing much the same thing, and have several years of home and yard maintenance which I have put off with the “good excuse” that I had my occupation to contend with which was more important because it put food on my table. However, I also have come to accept that one’s “age” is a state of mind, that we often fall into ruts of conformity that are tagged by the particular physical age that we assumed that we have become. That said, one intellectually realizes that their body and mind are constantly changing all of their lives anyway, and the forces of generation and degeneration within us have always been in contention with one another. Obviously, I am not the person I was 30 years ago: in some ways, I am “worse” and other ways, I am “better” -- it is all relative. However, I have understood the lessons that maintaining one’s physical and mental health through various practices, exercises and intellectual and aesthetic pursuits is exceedingly mandatory for an ever-developing quality of life over time.
Lately, I have spent over 50% of my time the last two years acting as the caregiver of my now 89-year-old invalid mother. I share this responsibility with my brother, and it is much like flying a large airplane, with moments of high drama and even terror, sprinkled at random amid prolonged periods of dull and boring routines. I have also realized lately, that my years of working at the university, actually prepared me for this chore which I appear to be quite adept and natural in the performance of needed duties. From several friends and acquaintances in similar situations, I have heard their stories of this most common and human of experiences. These recollections plus my observations of my mother’s sequential decline, has made me increasingly aware of aspects of being in the moment of this world. As well as the nature of consciousness, the fallibility of memory and reason, the ever-dynamic alterations of personal myths and the confusions about one’s sense of reality and time, in ways which I had never considered before. The over-arching humanity that is our inherent nature never ceases to be the object of our explorations.
- Joeri Bruyninckx
© Copyright http://www.psychedelicbabymag.com/2018
- Joeri Bruyninckx
© Copyright http://www.psychedelicbabymag.com/2018