Baraka (With & Without Music)


The versions of Baraka’s “Black Dada Nihilsmus” and Mackey’s “Song of the Andoumboulou: 19” that I picked for the PENNsound MP3 feature are not accompanied by music. However, when I picked these tracks I had the echoes of other versions that were accompanied music in the back of my head. (I’ll discuss the Mackey in a separate post.)

Baraka’s “Black Dada Nihilismus” voice-only

Baraka’s “Black Dada Nihilismus (w/ DJ Spooky)” voice + music

The actual reading of the poem begins in the “voice-only” version at about 46 seconds. The poem begins in the second version (voice + music) at about 15 seconds. If you wanted to listen to them simultaneously you could sync them up.


This is a brief clip from the “voice only” version: excerpt without music

This is an excerpt of roughly the same part of the poem from the voice+music version: excerpt with music

This moment in the recordings seemed to be a point of maximum contrast. The DJ Spooky version is a recording I’ve had for several years. It was on a compilation CD of musicians (David Byrne, DJ Spooky, etc.) performing the work of and responding to “beat authors”. Over the years, I’ve listened to that version enough times to solidify it in my memory. When I heard the “voice-only” version from Baraka’s 1964 reading up on PENNsound recently, I listened to it filtered through the history of my listening to the “voice + music” version.

Even without considering the issue of musical accompaniment these are very different performances of the poem. For example, in the “voice-only” clip from 1964, Baraka seems to speak the word “scream” in a higher pitched, slightly elongated way, as if holding the note of a song. There’s an ambiguity between singing and speaking voice here. However, if you listen to the “voice + music” version, the word “scream” is performed more literally (“scream”=SCREAM).

Another moment in this tiny clip that fascinated me was the part in the “voice-only” version when Baraka pauses to turn the page between the word “unearthly” and the word “hollering”. I found that completely surprising. I think it was so surprising because that part in the “voice + music” version (that had been in my head for so long) was performed at such a high level of intensity and velocity. Also, it points to how closely he’s scoring the work according to the page in the “voice-only” version.


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