Posts in Category: Musical settings

A Boy by John Ashbery

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John Ashbery reads his poem (from Some Trees, 1956) in this film by Kurtis Hough with original music composed by Christopher Tignor, from the album Thunder Lay Down in the Heart. The Vimeo description quotes Tignor:

The poem “A Boy” rang out to me while I was writing “Thunder Lay Down in the Heart”. Titles usually come in response to the music and I often find myself looking through books of poetry to turn my mind on in that way. I studied poetry myself with John Ashbery many years ago while a student Bard College – indeed he was my advisor. I really responded to the inner psychic conflict of the protagonist against the visceral narrative tension of the storm – the sound, like thunder, of falling “from shelf to shelf of someone’s rage”, the rain at night against the box cars, the inevitable flood.
But to say I’ve completely understood the poem – on whatever terms – is to short change its mystery. I find something new in this poem every time I read it. It’s precisely that kind of altruistic unfolding that I hoped to embody in my musical work with its own flooded lines, dry fields of lightning, and cabbage roses. One reviewer recently described the work as its own “vast electrical disturbance”. Hard to disagree.

For more information on the album, see the Western Vinyl catalog description.

The story of Thunder Lay Down in the Heart begins with the poem “A Boy” written in 1956 by John Ashbery, well before he became the world renown, Pulitzer Prize winning poet we know him as today. In a rare collaboration, Tignor recorded Ashbery reading the work in his Chelsea apartment, surrounding it with his own original musical setting for strings that opens the record. A line from this poem became the title of Tignor’s twenty-minute work for string orchestra, electronics, and drums, featuring eminent Boston-based ensemble A Far Cry. The album’s B side continues the process of reinterpretation as Tignor electronically reimagines and remixes the title piece into “The Listening Machines” and “To Draw a Perfect Circle”, creating spellbinding ambient adventures derived directly from the tapes of this ensemble’s gut-wrenching virtuoso performance. Ending as we began with collaboration, the record’s final remix, “First, Impressions”, was created with composer / pianist Rachel Grimes (of Rachel’s).

Read the rest.

Shadows by Langston Hughes

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I suppose this is technically a music video rather than a videopoem, but it strikes me as much closer to the latter genre to the former — save for the fact that the poem takes the form of a very beautiful art song.

Composed by Lior Rosner
Soprano: Janai Brugger
Directed and After Effects by Tal Rosner
DoP: Adam Woodhall
Dancers: Cameron McMillan, Fiona Merz

About the project:
One of America’s greatest poets, Langston Hughes was a social activist and early innovator of jazz poetry. Hughes distilled the experience of his generation of African Americans into poems that sang in his clear and unapologetic voice. In “In Time of Silver Rain: Seven Poems by Langston Hughes,” composer Lior Rosner uses his music to liberate Hughes’ words from the boundaries of historical context. Rosner’s modern settings challenge us to consider the contemporary relevance of Hughes’ frank and often searing meditations on the universal themes of oppression, loss, frustration and love. While the emotions captured in these songs are indeed timeless, beneath the undeniable modernity of Rosner’s music, there are subtle harmonic nods to the jazz that provided the sonic backdrop for the Harlem Renaissance.

Jayne Cortez live with Denardo Coleman: three poems

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1. Find Your Own Voice

2. I’m Gonna Shake

3. She Got He Got

The recent death of Jayne Cortez prompted a post on Metafilter calling attention to her pioneering and musically compelling work with jazz musicians. Though most of the YouTube material is audio-only, the above videos were expertly filmed and recorded. They’re from a concert/reading in 2010 with Denardo Coleman accompanying his mother on drums. Andrew Lynn directed, with camera work by Elanor Goldsmith, Ira McKinley and Joshua Thorson. The description on YouTube reads:

“A Dialogue Between Voice and Drums,” live at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, NY on October 23, 2010. A firespitting evening with drummer Denardo Coleman, featuring a voice celebrated for her political, surrealistic, dynamic innovations in lyricism, and visceral sound. Cortez’s literary work and impassioned activism, inspired by the ideals of human dignity and social justice, have been called blues poetics, part of the foundation of hip hop and performance poetry. Denardo Coleman is a musician, composer, producer and drummer with the Ornette Coleman Quartet.

From the Hill-Top by Tomas Tranströmer

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Belgian musician S.A. Barstow, A.K.A. Teun De Voeght, has just released an album of adaptations of Tomas Tranströmer poems as translated by Robin Fulton. This is one of the ten tracks from that album. You can listen to the others on his Bandcamp page.

Sonnet 97 by William Shakespeare

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I found this musical interpretation compelling; the accompanying kinestatic video isn’t bad, either. It’s a selection from The Winter E.P. – Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Hallam London, who is credited with composition, vocals, guitars, keyboards and all programming. The photos in the video were taken on Norderney Island in the North Sea by Nicola Moczek and Riklef Rambow. Visit the composer’s bandcamp page to hear more from the EP.

“Much Madness is divinest Sense…” by Emily Dickinson

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I watched this when it was first uploaded to Vimeo two years ago, but for whatever reason didn’t share it then. Perhaps I felt it was too far from the spirit of the poem as I understood it. Be that as it may, however, I think it’s important as an international and pop-cultural interpretation of Dickinson, and also may help clarify some of the differences between the related genres of music video and videopoetry.

Michal Jaskulski directs. The music is by Polish composer Andrzej Bonarek, who specializes in music for theater and film. The video garnered several awards, according to the description in Vimeo:

Los Angeles Movie Awards 2010 – Best Visual Effects in a music video, Award of Excellence
Canada International Film Festival 2010 – Royal Reel Award VSM 2010 festival – Special Recognition
Yach Film 2008 – Grand Prix nominee

IO game over by Sergio Garau

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This videopoem by Angelo Saccu, performed by Sergio Garau to music by Antonio Marra, betrays influences from all over: it’s equal parts concert video, sound poem and concrete/kinetic-text poem. I ran the YouTube description through Google Translate:

The violent encounter between political identities, economic, cultural, language here is staged through an ironic game of opposites. The ‘I’, translated into machine language 1 0 (zero), cut into pieces for binary digital misunderstood as grotesque chaos of contradictory slogans of contemporary power, explodes in a syncopated rhythm outside of himself. For tris doubly impossible breaks down the end of his world.