Entropic Void by Payson R. Stevens

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It’s always fun to find poetry films made by innovators working in isolation from others in the field, since they bring a completely fresh outlook and approach. In the case of Payson R. Stevens, his unique background in science/science communication on the one hand and art and design on the other included helping to

pioneer the field of interactive multimedia starting in 1987. He produced and directed ten acclaimed educational CD-ROM titles on Earth science and environmental subjects, two of which debuted at the Smithsonian Institution’s 1995 Ocean Planet Exhibition. In 1994, InterNetwork received the Presidential Design Award for Excellence from Bill Clinton for the CD-ROM science-journal prototype, Arctic Data InterActive.

The above video is an example of a new type of work that Stevens has trademarked: Video Tone Poems.

In October 2013, a trip to the spectacular Ajanta and Ellora ancient caves in the state of Maharastra, India catalyzed a new integration of my creative expression through video, poetry, photography, and music. I call this work Video Tone Poems™ (VTPs). A tone poem is classically defined as a piece of orchestral music, usually in one movement, on a descriptive or rhapsodic theme.

I believe the Video Tone Poems™ may be a new auteur genre, using all the visual, poetic, and musical tools and technologies to express a unified vision of one individual’s expression in multiple creative arts. Of course, living in the isolation of Behta Pani/Flowing Waters (our Himalayan retreat), I may be deluded or perhaps watching my shadow reflecting on my studio walls…while Plato laughs.

Stevens divides the VTPs into three categories based on the type of message. Entropic Void belongs in the “Afflicted Messages” category, “meditations on the human condition, the environment, and technology, all interacting in this, The Age of Anthropocene (described as the global impacts of human behavior which include climate change, species invasion and extinction, etc.).” Stevens told me in an email, “I screened the VTPs in New Delhi last October and at the San Diego Museum of Art in Feb to a full house and enthusiastic response.”

I’m not sure how I feel about message-oriented poetry in general, but I like this videopoem a lot. There is nothing remotely touristic about his gaze; the people shown are just people, not exoticized others, in keeping with the poem’s hortatory “you.”

5 Comments

  1. Reply
    Jas Grewal 29 June, 2015

    makes one reflect…very well done!! Words and imagery become one!!

  2. Reply
    lee stein 29 June, 2015

    i consider the poetry of payson to be insightful and inspirational. i found the comment in the summary that “”I’m not sure how I feel about message-oriented poetry”” to be curious. The messages, to me, caused me to reflect on the message in a way that many traditional works have not affected me. I found Payson to provide the most reflective experience in my many years of reading and listening to poetry.

  3. Reply
    Payson R. Stevens 3 July, 2015

    I appreciate the comments/feedback from Jas and Lee. Isn’t all poetry/art is message-oriented, directly, indirectly, symbolist, etc.? Art is an expression of a view, feelings, social, political or relationship-based (self, others), always a point of view…from Sappho to Basho to Ginsburg.

    The VideoTonePoems (VTPs) are just another form of that expression, perhaps more unique because they draw on multiple creative expression of one individual (words, video, music, technology), tho’ they are part of the “moving poems” genre. TheVTPs were initially triggered by visiting the ancient Indian sacred sites of Ajanta and Ellora. I had planned on doing a more conventional video documentaries, but the power of these sites triggered poems that transformed into the first VTPs, along with composing the music. This opened a door that has since evolved into much more layered and complex VTPs based on years of living in India and drawing on the visual richness all around: from peaceful, villages, roaring urban cities, and incredible ancient religious and cultural sites.

    As an early pioneer in the Digital New Media (in the mid-1980s), I decided, after years of withdrawal from digital art/expression, to re-engage with technology. My hope is that a younger generation raised on fleeting “youtube” content, would be drawn to the deeper complexity that I hope my VTPs successfully express (not to mention lovers of poetry of all ages!).

  4. Reply
    Richard Carter 3 July, 2015

    This VideoTonePoem has countless layers of depth and design that move to Payson’s powerful words. I would have imagined entropy as the slow motion of things that blended one into one another and the tone of Payson’s voice serves along with his words as the bridge for this cornucopia of feeling induced images that move slow.

  5. Reply
    Alan Robinson 4 August, 2015

    As a friend – and about the same age cohort – of this VTP’s author Payson Stevens I can appreciate his voyage from earlier media to the amazing opportunities presented by the digital age. I share his hope that blending of new technologies will be embraced by established as well as upcoming artists in ways that go beyond 140 characters. As to the messages conveyed in Entropic Void they resonate especially well because of the juxtaposition of the spoken word, the music and the video images. If one is accustomed to absorbing and appreciating only one of those three channels separately it may take a bit of experiencing the combination to appreciate that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but Payson is clearly making that happen. Alan Robinson

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