Preexisting Formats and the New Format: Compositional Poetry

2013/03/11 § 1 Comment

Following on from Formats and Genres being Rituals I’m now reading David Byrne in How Music Works, where he states, in contrast to the lone genius coming up with some expressive creative outpouring, that:

I believe that we unconsciously and instinctively make work to fit preexisting formats.

He then begins to support this claim with a description of how the context of a performance influences how it is listened too, or rather, if it cannot be heard, if it doesn’t work acoustically, then it will not get performed. (This is basically the opening of the book and it’s all I’ve read so far).

I.E. that the formats we instinctively write for are determined by the contexts in which the formats are themselves created (as socially and economically constructed in other words).

That the acoustic environment of the places where we choose to attend to music influences the style, the format of the music, which we then subsequently associate with a particular type of music. (No doubt this attention to the acoustic environment is just the opening of what ‘context’ means in this book.)

This means that what is perceived as religious music will depend on the environment in which we attend religious rites and services. Complex rhythmic spirituals developed when dancing and chanting in a forest clearing will not work in cavernous cathedrals, but simple slower changing music will cope with, if not incorporate, the reverb.

Now having attempted to create a couple of formats (Compositional Poetry and the Unnsonnet) it occurs to me that to get them work I have to find or make the right space fo them. Or find an unused space and adapt my multi-voice pieces to them.

Everything leads back to marketing, as the context of context, the meta-context of both our creative and ritualistic impulses. I don’t think it possible for a lone genius to ever do that alone.

I’ll just have to wait to be picked up after I’m dead. Even if I had the natural skills to be a marketeer, I do not have the interest. So I’ll just put it out there on the internet and see what happens.

If something really is a new format it is very hard to describe. (Let alone promote. If it was about cats or pets generally of course it would meme-ify and promote itself.)

Compositional Poetry
Compositional Poetry is a form of read-together poetry written in a number of voices and is performed much like a musical score, where the voices speak their lines according to their responsibilities, not in chorus, not in soliloquy, not taking turns, but all of these and none. Each voice is thus not a character as a role in a play or opera, though characters may appear of their own volition. Stories may emerge of their own inclination.

Currently I am writing a new compositional poem. Working title “MAKE”. I do one every ten years or so.

Compositional Poetry (1994 & 1999)

2012/04/02 § Leave a comment

In 1994 in Hobart, Tasmania, I invented ‘Compositional Poetry’. I say invented because I have never seen anything like it anywhere else.

I was pushed into creating this new form because I had been wrestling with a very long poem for months, and could find no way to trim it back into some sort of coherency, so I started to chop it into phrases and allocated these phrases to voices of various responsibility, as if this voice would say that wouldn’t it?

I decided on eight voices or responsibilities because eight is a natural group size for humans from a hunter-gatherer background. Beyond a dozen many human brains start to loose track.

I decided these voices were not ‘characters’ or ‘roles’, but ‘responsibilities’ because the voices were not personalities but drives, concerns, attitudes, needs and desires. Each voice was articulating this ‘energy’ as their responsibility, adding to the performance when necessary, but they were not necessarily competing, nor necessarily co-operating. That was the work of the readers.

To read the compositional poem eight people had to read it aloud together. If you watch or listen to this reading, it is only then a performance. Each performance will have its own character because of those who read it, not because of how I may have written the voices.

Below is the first page from all)bitternessandapathy. Click on it to see it at a better size.


The reading starts with all eight saying ‘all)bitternessandapathy’. Then all eight say ‘all)opening’. Which is what the opening section is called. In this section each of the voices introduce themselves in their nominal or natural order beginning with
1) The killer fills the space between me
then two starts with
2) The power follows content
and here voice 1) also says the word ‘content’ at the same time that 2) does.
They may well read it differently though, with different stress. 2) may say the word ‘content’ as ‘conTENT’, stressing the word’s use indicating satiety or ease. Voice 1) may stress the word as CONtent, emphasizing what is held within.
then voice 3) introduces themselves with
3) the witness sees full denial
while 2) says ‘seeks’ cued to when 30 says ‘sees’
And so on.

Back in 1994 I called this form ‘multi-voice poetry’ but I was never very happy with the term. Six years later while writing Shag Bay I realised that as it was structured like music then it was ‘composed’ not written. Also, a choir is multi-voiced if usually aiming to a uni-vocal completeness, so calling a it multi-voiced after voice rather than how it was written was a bit confusing.

By then I had also read Bergsonism by Delueze and loved the idea of a compositional space. Might be completely wrong for science, but compositional space is great for animals like us to live in. Compositional space feels more alive because it describes the evolutionary reality of our umwelt among umwelten. Of multiple compositions all going on at the same time, and so bringing together competitive cooperation. Relativity in time-space continuums is meh.

Compositional poetry is a making that brings together. The writing is an exploded soliloquy but the reading together is the thing.

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