Forging a new space for sound poetry
By Margarita Osipian
How do you take the experimental sound poetry of the 1970s, relegated to a forgotten space on the shelves of history, and make it fun and accessible? You put it to music, add full screen animation, and throw in some quirky costumes.
On Saturday, January 5th, I was lucky enough to catch a rehearsal performance of the Four Horsemen Project at the Great Hall on Queen West. Although this was a pared-down version of the show, without the complex and expensive lighting design and feel of a real theatre, it still provided a wonderful view into the project, which is based on the work of the original sound poetry group, The Four Horsemen. Consisting of Rafael Barreto-Rivera, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery, and bpNichol, this Toronto group took poetry to a new level of experimentation in the 1970s by playing with meaning and sound, and abolishing old ideas of what poetry should look like.
Directed by Ross Manson and choreographed by Kate Alton, the rehearsal was performed for an audience in preparation for the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver (January 16 – February 3, 2008), where the project is headed next.
In this tribute to the Four Horsemen’s work, the physical texts are projected behind and under the performers, and thrown into relief when sung by the range of vocalists. The performers — Jennifer Dahl, Graham McKelvie, Noako Murakoshi, and Andrea Nann — danced with the words and brought the bodily nature of sound poetry into existence. Projected onto a sheet hung behind the performers, the animation oscillated between vintage 1970s videos, moving words, and drawings that grew and expanded beautifully across the stage.
Many people feel isolated by the experimental work of the Four Horsemen, as it’s not really stuff that appeals to a broad audience; but this new take on their work adds an element of comedy to the performances, and reveals an excitement that can be found in sounds and playing with words. It’s sure to open some new eyes and ears.