Jim Rosenberg

Jim Rosenberg's WELL Author Page.

Pieces for Simultaneous Voices

My pieces for simultaneous voices date mostly from 1972 to 1974. All of this work sprang from a day that changed my life. I had arranged to visit David Bromige at his house in Sebastopol, California. (At the time I was living in Berkeley.) When I got there, I found a house overflowing with the voices of poets: David played tape after tape. It was a transforming experience. Of course I had been to many readings by that time, but had never thought to get a tape recorder and collect tapes. Returning back to Berkeley I knew I would have to begin this. Shortly after getting a tape recorder, as an experiment I tried overlaying several layers of some material I had written earlier using chance operations. What I heard was a strange kind of pulsing prosody, almost like syllable prosody, but at a much much longer wavelength. I knew two things when I heard this: that I didn't understand this prosody at all, and that I would have to make several tape pieces to find out about it. Thus began the body of work which has thankfully been rescued and preserved here.

The textual material that was used to make these pieces is roughly of two types. Some of the texts were written using formal chance procedures that involved extracting found material. It turned out that I was using almost identical procedures to those discovered more than a decade earlier by Jackson Mac Low (e.g. works in Stanzas for Iris Lezak.) Other texts were simply written "by hand", but with the benefit of the experience of formal chance operations, and using almost a kind of "mental precomposition and extraction" process that is hard to explain. (I recall Jackson being amazed that the phrases in Intermittence were written without using formal procedures.)

The methods of combining the voices into clusters likewise consist of both rigorous formal procedures and a much more informal approach. I have notebooks of catalogs of overlay structures, and for some of the pieces used chance operations based on such criteria as density to choose overlay types from an exhaustive listing of all the possible patterns. I tended to think of these patterns as being somewhat like types of foot, but with the scale vastly expanded, so that a whole phrase would play the role of a single syllable. In other cases much more informal methods were used to combine the voices. Actual documentation of dates and precise composition methods for these pieces does not exist, and these works were made so long ago that I don't always have a clear memory of just how I made them.

The earliest work is Dawn Quartet. As recorded this is a "bi-linear" piece: the left channel and right channel consist of exactly the same text, but the lines of one channel are read in the reverse order of the lines in the other channel. The lines are notated as being either voiced, whispered or completely silent. The Home Made Emphasis pieces and Completing The Square form a series. The title Home Made Emphasis reflects an acute awareness on my part that I was using consumer tape equipment that was not up to "radio standards". Still, as I play these pieces back through low-cost PC speakers, there is an odd kind of rightness to that. I have no clear memory of how Home Made Emphasis #2 was made; I recall 1 and 3 being made by using tape loops to control the precise offset of the voices in each cluster, according to a procedural compositional scheme. (It appears my records of this are not complete, alas ...) Completing The Square is the last of the series, and I believe it was mixed at Radio KPFA in Berkeley and completed in 1973. There would have been no way to have arranged enough studio time to have used the tape loop method, so as I recall I recorded a large amount of material and extracted clusters based on resemblance to an overlay that came out of a procedural scheme. Intermittence was first performed (1974, I think) at the San Francisco Poetry Center. The recording here was made at WBAI in New York in 1975; the readers were Barbara Barracks, Jackson Mac Low, Sharon Matlin, and Mac McCloud. The score for this piece was published in Scores: An Anthology of New Music edited by Roger Johnson, Schirmer Books, New York, 1981. The score gives the timing and the overlay structure; each reader receives 7 pages of 3 stanzas each and orders them however the reader would like; some pages are given to only one reader, some to two, and some to three. Thus each performance is likely to be unique. The Pheasant Glides Upon Landing is constructed from a hand-drawn Diagram Poem. I had no memory of ever having made a tape piece from one of my diagrams, and was quite surprised to encounter the diagram in an old notebook, clearly notated as a text for a tape piece. My tape composition notebook is full of notations from the making of this piece, which I can't decipher even as I look at them. The diagram is notated as 10/74, so the tape piece probably dates to some time in 1975.

In 1974 I described this work as follows:

By these overlays at times no words whatever can be made out. What is left may be described as 100% prosody. While I very much love the sounds that result from these overlays as sounds, my main interest lies in the area of using the occurrence of words whose meaning has been "nullified" to reflect on the language process in the full range of its contexts, including semantics. That is, by hearing speech elements where the words cannot be made out, the ears are tuned differently than they normally would be for hearing words where the meaning can be made out.
There are many people I need to thank for making the appearance of these pieces at The Electronic Poetry Center possible. As I mentioned above, it was David Bromige who originally launched me on this journey. Charles Amirkhanian provided studio time at KPFA, encouragement, and broadcast some of these works. Loss Pequeño Glazier, to whom we are all indebted for creating The Electronic Poetry Center, arranged for my old tapes to be dubbed off onto DAT. Steve Bradley generously donated his time at the music studio of SUNY Buffalo to dub the tapes. Martin Spinelli transformed the DAT tapes into Real Audio and brought them to the world.

Most of all, anyone will hear at once that the spirit of John Cage looms large in these works. At the time that John died, a phrase came to me that I and some others I know found useful:

John Cage: not in memoriam, but in use: in continuous use
May we all keep using ...

Page edited by: Martin Spinelli (linebrk@acsu.buffalo.edu)
1 March 2000