Versions of O’Hara

11May07

These are 3 different versions of Frank O’Hara’s “Poem (Lana Turner Has Collapsed!”)

1) The first one I think I got somewhere on the internet as a streaming RealAudio file in 2001. At that point, in order to get the file off the internet and onto a CD I had to loop a mini cable from the output into the input on the back of my computer and record it onto Roxio Toast’s Spin Doctor program. The surface crackle makes me wonder if this wasn’t recorded from vinyl. version one

2) The second one is from a different reading. Maybe I got it from the same site. I can’t remember. It has a totally different feel to it. O’Hara hams it up a bit more at the end: version two

3) The third version is from the Voice of the Poet series of audio CD’s. This is a different technical rendering of the same recording from #1. The audio engineer decided to clip it in a weird way and it sounds very “digital” to me. Here, I mean that pejoratively. This version* annoys me in the way that bad CGI annoys me. version three (excerpt)

The first and third recordings raise the issue of the audio file as a mediated/ “translated” text. Perhaps the audio engineer was going for more hiss reduction or something. In general the Voice of the Poet versions of O’Hara’s poems seem kind of “off” to me in the way that bad translations of work I’m very familiar can feel “off”. One thing that was sort of interesting to me was thinking about it as digital answering machine quality. That resonates with O’Hara’s personism and the technology of the phone, albeit in a perverse, monstrous and anachronistic way.

Why is this “noise” on the surface of the recording annoying to me while the “hiss” in Bernadette Mayer’s recording is interesting? Whenever I get really distracted by noise in a recording I try to slow down and pay attention to it. I think Cage talks about trying to listen to a set of sounds until your evaluative framework falls away. Putting something on infinite repeat is a good way to do that. Sometimes if I really love a recording I will intentionally try to burn out on it so I’ll be able to see past the parts I think are most interesting and significant and see other things I haven’t noticed. I’m not necessariy holding up an idea of objectivity or neutrality as a goal (or a possibility), but I do think it’s a good habit to try to listen to something until it becomes loosened from an initial set of value judgements.

*Note: I have excerpted the “Voice of the Poet” version so that it is clear I am not trying to freely distribute a commercially available file.

*Update: I think I originally got the first file from UbuWeb a few years ago and then segmented it on my own. O’Hara at Ubu

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One Response to “Versions of O’Hara”

  1. Sorry to write all over your Charles Bernstein paper, but I’d never heard that second recording of O’Hara doing this poem. It’s the only one that sounds like the poem when I read it to myself — the hamming it up seems quite perfect to me — isn’t the line in ALL CAPS in the original poem? That’s a version of noise in itself — not too many lines of poetry get away with being in all caps (despite America being SPACE and all).

    I’ve never liked (between you and me) studio recordings of poets reading. I don’t think engineers have ever figured out what to do with their voices. I think the best idea for doing a recording of a poets voice is to just open up the window. There has to be something else going on — studio tricks like reverb or whatnot never work, and since these things are stereo recordings, you might as well give the voice some space to work in — like the audio equivalent of a big oak tree. Poets read better when they’re nervous anyway.

    Have you read Michael Ondaatje’s book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film? It’s great on these issues.


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