Does sound carry meaning in the absence of language? What is "meaning"? Does it even matter? How should we react when confronted with a performance like the one documented in the video above? Does a question that begins with "how should" have anything to do with it?
My own impressions are pretty simple: I enjoy this stuff but I can't say for certain why. As a poet, I'm always conscious of the sound words make through their syntactical interactions, but I've never worked with sound as a pure material that doesn't rely on language.
In the latest edition of Jacket2, a. rawlings asks some questions of her own, and they're quite a bit different:
Are there women who self-identify as sound poets? Who are the female practitioners of sound poetry? Where do female practitioners using this term live? Why don’t more women utilize this term? Why is the term so popular with male practitioners? Is work by women, or the rare mention of their work, a tokenist gesture so the field doesn’t seem quite so androcentric? Is there a reason why the term “sound poetry” is not an accessible, acceptable, comfortable, reasonable term for female practitioners? Is the term overly masculine somehow?
Is “sound poetry” an overly North American or English-language category? How does an English-language, Canadian and/or American sound poetry differ from klankpoëzie, klangpoesie, poesie sonore, lettrisme, parole in liberta, zaum, lautgedichte …? How do we navigate the definitional differences between North American-style “sound poetry,” twentieth-century “sound poetry,” and a more general category that attempts to include historic, ethnopoetic, and pan-cultural works using elements of sound and language?
What do we mean when we use the term “sound poetry”?
To be honest, I was surprised. I'd never considered sound poetry to be a gender-specific practice, nor had I though of it as referring specifically to English-speaking poets. Instead, I'm led to wonder about terms like meaning, or to think about the meanings we receive from non-verbal human vocalizations. Do they run deeper than "mere" affect? And what does a term like affect really mean to a human subject that uses language as a foundation for thought?
Over the next few months, Jacket2 has invited rawlings to conduct a series of conversations with a number of "North American and European poets whose work and interests often explore the materiality of language." These include Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, Cris Costa, Maja Jantar, Oana Avasilichioaei, Leevi Lehto, Carmel Purkis, Jaap Blonk, Gary Barwin, Caroline Bergvall and Rozalie Hirs.
It should be a fascinating series and I can't wait to see what develops.
Update: Here's a link to the first installment--Sound I polypoetry: Maja Jantar in conversation with Oana Avasilichioaei