Monday, September 28, 2009

Heidi Dean overdubs on Nashville Highrise Variations

This weekend I drove Heidi Dean down to Nashville to overdub her vocals onto a handful of songs destined for our poetry score to The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray.

Click to enlarge this, and you will see what Heidi mostly saw: Lij inside the control room, talking to her about the quality of her take or the balance of her headphone mix.

Heidi and I have been working on music together for many, many years, and her name often comes up when my coproducers Matt Fuller, Lij and I are trying to figure out how to round out the sound of a song.

Lij, Matt and I have been making music together since 1989. Fortunately for Matt and me, we partnered up when young with a number of musicians (Lij, Meghan Gohil, Adam Long) who would go on to own and operate studios where we would be welcome to work, often for free.

Lij's studio, The Toy Box, is built from his design in a shed on the back of his property in East Nashville, Tennessee, which was expanded for the purpose. The Toy Box is open for business and highly recommended.


These are all hastily crafted rough mixes. Most songs still need electric guitar parts, including solos, and other color instruments, such as keyboard, piano or percussion.

Transients at speed
(Chris King, Lij, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men

Inked in by scaffolding and workers
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men

Hot-air money driers
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men

In the land of veneers
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men

Breath of catching up
(Chris King, Lij, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men

Our poetry score to The Sydney Highrise Variations will be released at an Art Invitational devoted to the poem that is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary Center for the Arts.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Michael Hoffman's painting for the Invitational is in

I am very delighted to report that Michael Hoffman has completed this beautiful piece for the 2009 Poetry Scores Art Invitational. It's titled:

"the concrete vault on its thousands
of tonnes of height, far above the tidal turnaround".

Like all of the pieces being made for the show, its title is drawn from the poem The Sydney Highrise Variations by the great Australian poet Les Murray.

In recent years Michael and Alisa LaChance have hosted our Invitationals at Hoffman LaChance, but their new location is a bit small for our needs. So this year, we are doing it at The Luminary Center for the Arts, which is a really amazing space across from Tower Grove Park and just down Kinshighway from The Royale.
The Invitational is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 13. All work will be for sale on silent auction, with proceeds split three ways between the artist, the venue and Poetry Scores, a Missouri nonprofit that translates poetry into other media.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

44 confirmed artists for 2009 Art Invitational

We now have what could be the final list of 42 contributing artists for the 2009 Poetry Scores Art Invitational, which will be held Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary.

This year's Invitational is dedicated to The Sydney Highrise Variations by the Australian poet Les Murray. Each artist will be making work in response to the poem and titling their work after a verbatim piece of language from the poem. I have included titles when I know them.

Gina Alvarez
Jenna Bauer
Michael Behle
Kevin Belford
Keith Buchholz
Heather Corley: "The starving spirit is fed upon the heart"
Jon Cournoyer
Greg Edmondson: “Sick beloved engine”
Nancy Exarhu
Thom Fletcher: "The city kept her flavour fire-ladder high," "To limit them to standing on economic grounds. With their twists of sculpture," "The worldwide breath of Catching Up may serve to keep the mighty, slowing machine aloft beyond our time"
Christopher Gustave
Sue Hartman
Michael Hoffman
Alexa Hoyer
Chris King: “Dante,” “Cromwell”
Alicia LaChance
Dianna Lucas
Julie Malone
Goran Maric
Brea McAnally
Tim McAvin: "Inked in by scaffolding and workers"
Tim Meehan: "To be solar, I must be nuclear"
John Minkoff
Carmelita Nunez
Melanie Persch
Hap Phillips
Jeremy Rabus
Tony Renner

Kim Richardson
Stefene Russell: "The cantilevered behemoth
is fitted up with hospitals and electric Gatling guns
to deal with recalcitrant and archaic spirits."
Lyndsey Scott
Colin Michael Shaw
Daniel Shown
Dana Smith: "Freud's cobwebbed poem"
Robin Street-Morris - "To be solar, I must be nuclear--"
Justin Tolentino
Andrew Torch: "On the summit that exhilarates cars"
Cindy Tower
Jason Wallace Triefenbach: "We must fly in potent circles!"
Nita Turnage: "Repeat their lines repeat their lines"
Robert Van Dillen
Amy VanDonsel
Grace Woodard
Eric Woods


All work will be sold that night at The Luminary on silent auction, with proceeds split three ways between artist, venues and Poetry Scores, a Missouri nonprofit corporation dedicated to translating poetry into other media.


The image is of Tim McAvin's already completed piece, "Inked in by scaffolding and workers".

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Les Murray on NPR (see, guys, I'm not crazy)

Those of us fortunate to have had extraordinary experiences are grateful from time to time to be reminded that it wasn't a dream and we aren't crazy.

A number of friends called to my attention today that the great Austalian poet Les Murray was being featured on NPR here in St. Louis, where I live. These are all people associated in some way with the arts org Poetry Scores, which I direct, and which this year is putting to music and hosting an Art Invitational around a poem by Les Murray.

I'm going to go ahead and assume that my friends take me at my word when I tell them how wonderful and world-famous Les is, and how privileged I feel to know him personally and to have spent a day recording him reading his work, but seeing Les profiled on NPR did lend some external reality to my ravings.

The show is "To the Best of Our Knowledge" on Wisconsin Public Radio - the link takes you to the program with Les, who appears at the very end of it. He in interviwed quite ably by Steve Paulson, who also helps my cause with my friends by saying Les "is considered by many literary critics to be the greatest living poet in English today".

See, guys, just like I was saying!

In the segment, Les reads four poems ("Post-Mortem," "The Kitchen Grammars," "Church" and "The Blueprint") from his latest book of poetry, The Bi-Plane Houses, and yarns as only Les can about poetry, poverty, religion, depression, the death of his parents, and sex.

Some choice bits.

On his reportedly "poor, humble" beginnings:

"Poor people - not humble. The broder Scots have never been humble - I give you Richard Nixon - but they have on occasion been poor."

On having hard-luck parents:

"It made me distrustful of the world - the bad was likely to happen."

On the theology of Calvinism:

"It's a nice day, and we'll pay for it."

On the death of his mother during a miscarriage:

"It gave me a fear of sex because it kills you and other people die off it, you don't want to cause their deaths."

On depression:

"I call it the poet's flu."

On writing through depression:

"I tell it, 'black dog, you bastard, you make me cry, I make you sing.'"

On the equality of poetry:

"The animals are alive as the people and everything has an equality about it. it's not a class system, in a poem. Not in one of mine, anyway."

Also featured on it: Patricia Smith, Jay Parini and Gioia Timpanelli. Les is last to appear on the program.


Pic from Jemimah Kuhfeld's Poet Project.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tony Renner's Sonny Rollins Variations

This is a numbered series of improvisations for Sonny Rollins by St. Louis artist Tony Renner, who has agreed to contribute again this year to the Poetry Scores Art Invitational.

He posted them up on four successive days in mid-July and, protean dude he is, I'd guess he cranked them out on those four days. Tony came to visual art in young middle age and seems to have the stuff pouring out of him faster than he can catch it - and he's a good art catcher.

This year's Invitational is dedicated to The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray, a long poem about modernity, vertical space and the rise of the Australian city.

Though I see from a very sharply written review that Sonny Rollins played the Sydney Opera House in June 2008 for his first Australian appearance, I admit he doesn't have much to do with the themes of Les Murray's poem that Tony and the other 38 confirmed artists will be responding to for this year's Invitational.

That sharply written Sydney review by John Clare does talk about how in the sixties Sonny "would sometimes shatter it all into cubist fragments fashioned from falsetto wisps, barks, fog horn drones and hollow crooning," which sounds a bit like the mouth music by Les I recorded that we have incorporated into the score.

Probably I got Sonny Rollins on the mind since he is coming to the Touhill on Sept. 19 for what one fears will be his last St. Louis performance.

But really, I had something else in mind when selecting these images to preview Tony Renner's contribution to our Invitational. Rather than content - I have been looking for explorations of vertical space by the artists to post up in previews - this is an example of analagous form, since this is a series of variations - the Sonny Rollins Variations, as it were.

Here is hoping Tony pours out a series of variations for our Invitational! I'm also looking forward to seeing what scrap(s) of language from the poem she chooses for the title(s) of his work, which is the premise of the show.

The 2009 Poetry Scores Art Invitational will be held Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Grace Woodard: from cow town to harbour city

These are images that Grace Woodard posted to her Flickr site in December 2007, titled "Rail car graffiti flowers". She tagged them "Baxter Springs" and "Kansas".

An old cow town in Kansas could hardly have less in common with Australia's great harbor city of Sydney, but it was the beauty of these images that, after an hour or so of browsing on her Flickr, motivated me to ask Grace if she would contribute to the 2009 Poetry Scores Art Invitational.

I was happy when she said yes!

She and I have skads of mutual friends, one of the things that made browsing her Flickr interesting, though I can't say I really "know" Grace. I could tell from looking at her very interesting pictures that she makes more kinds of art than photographs, so I don't even know if she is working in this medium for our show.

I do look forward to seeing what art she makes in response to The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray, and what scrap of language from the poem she chooses for the title of the work, which is the premise of the show.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Unaffected terror, Thom Fletcher and ruling themes

Towards the end of recording a poetry score - a long poem scored as one scores a film - it seems like we always end up with one scrap of the poem with some music dedicated to it for a spoken word treatment, but no reader in mind (for whatever reason, the poet's own voice already having been passed over as not quite right for the part), and we make a last mad scramble to find the right voice.

With our score to Les Murray's The Sydney Highrise Variations, our Grammy-nominated house engineer Adam Long and I had recorded a mockup of my voice on a stretch of the poem that will be entitled "Employment and Neckties and Ruling Themes" once it is fitted into the score, with a voice delivering the poem over an old improvisation by Middle Sleep.

As I posted up earlier, it was felt that we needed a sad old Australian voice to deliver the lines. The poet Les Murray's voice is certainly Australian, but it's tone is not quite right for the music we had toggled out for this part of the score, and when I recorded Les reading in Long Island City years ago he just blazes through these stanzas, whereas I wanted a more thoughtful, halting pace.

Not finding anyone Australian, I would have settled for just sad and old and longed for Pops Farrar, our go-to guy for such assignments before he died. Then I decided I would settle for just sad, and that was when I thought about the character of my friend Thom Fletcher's voice, which has a halting sadness to it, among other registers.

Thom is married to Stefene Russell, who came through as the last-minute reader in the clutch when Adam and I were stranded at just this point on scoring Blind Cat Black, when she came in at the zero hour to double my own reading of the very end of the poem. That case was similar to where we were on "Employment and Neckties and Ruling Themes" - I liked the pacing, phrasing and mood of my reading, but my voice was weak.

So I asked Thom and Stef to come in and both double my reading, attempting to match it phrase for phrase, which they did really well; and then Adam and I sifted through all of the takes, including mine and Les Murray's, and assembled a composite.

We decided to keep Thom's as the lead voice. It does have that sad, halting character I remembered and desired. Also, this was the first time Thom had done anything of this sort, and (as he said) our recording of his voice captured "real terror - unaffected terror".

Real terror, unaffected terror: I hadn't known it, but that was just what was needed. Then we dropped in Stef, Les and me, here and there, as accents. I think it really works.


"Employment and neckties and ruling themes"
(Middle Sleep, Les Murray)
Music by Middle Sleep
Poetry by Les Murray
Reading by Thom Fletcher, Stefene Russell and Les Murray
Produced by Chris King
Engineered by Adam Long


That's my photo of Thom holding up the poem for Stef to read it from Thom's Flickr. Hey, if he can make a came on my poetry score as reader, I can make a cameo on his Flickr as shooter.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Thom Fletcher keeps the flavour of the poem in the pictures

We now have visual evidence of the first indications of finished work for the 2009 Poetry Scores Art Invitational (to be held Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary): three photographs by Thom Fletcher.

This is "The city kept her flavour fire-ladder high".

And this, "To limit them to standing on economic grounds. With their twists of sculpture".

The premise of a Poetry Scores Art invitational is for artists to respond to the poem we are scoring and to title their pieces after verbatim quotes from the poem - in this case, The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray.

Finally, "The worldwide breath of Catching Up may serve to keep the mighty, slowing machine aloft beyond our time".

The other core curatorial premise of our shows is to hang the work in the space according to where in the flow of the poem the langugae selected as the title of the work appears. I have uploaded images of Thom's three pieces in the order in which their titles appear in the poem, so we have here the very beginnings for a feel for the flow of the show.

I think these images speak for themselves, and their interplay with the verbatim scraps of the poem we are scoring this year that Thom selected for the titles (as per Invitational rules) also are available to anyone with an imagination.

These comments are high compliments, coming from me. Poetry Scores evolved from a field recoding project known as Hoobellatoo. Our involvement with recording poets and scoring poems started in the basement of the great independent left-wing publisher Curbstone Press, which takes as its motto a line from the Salvadorean rebel poet Roque Dalton: "Poetry, like bread, is for everyone."

Exactly. I'd say all art is for everyone - especially the eminently populist medium (in this era of excellent, affordable digital cameras) of the photograph. Thom probably doesn't consider himself an artist, but I love his photographs and didn't hesitate to invite him to contribute to the Art Invitational.

I will make one critical remark, though. This year we are scoring, and Invitational artists are responding to, The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray. As the title of the work would certainly suggest, the poem delves into the Australian city of Sydney, New South Wales, in great detail. And though I sort of hope someone incorporates Sydneyean images into their contributions to the Invitational, I equally hoped that local artists would look around our local landscape for counterparts to the images iconic to our Australian bard.

Poetry Scores is based in St. Louis, and those of us who love this place find in it neglected resources of every imaginable variety. Certainly, the landscape of St. Louis - both natural and built - is so far more varied than any outsider would presume. That's why, when we made a silent movie to our poetry score for Blind Cat Black, we shamelessly seized upon sleazy areas along South Grand as local counterparts to the Istanbul underworld evoked in Ece Ayhan's poem.

The mission of Poetry Scores is to translate poetry into other media. But we also are always translating back and forth between our home city and the other great and neglected cities of the world.

More in this series

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Gina Alvarez: independence with a sense of place

As we prepare for the fourth Poetry Scores Art Invitational (Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary) and our fifth visual art show overall, it occurs to me we are developing something of a roster of house artists who show year after a year, and this is fine by me.

The rock musicians who work on the Poetry Scores CDs have been making music together for exactly twenty years, and as we start to imagine our second silent movie made to one of our poetry scores, I start with the same actors we used on the first film - I always like the idea of being an ensemble, with a core cast.

That said, it goes without saying that we don't know every creative artist out there, or that we have thought to ask everyone we do know who would fit in with our scheme of things, so I am equally delighted to add new people to the mix in every medium.

It was with this in mind that I recruited Stephen Lindsley to join our Board of Directors, since he does an active art blog and knows the local art scene pretty thoroughly. Sure enough, this year he has brought someone new to the invitational: Gina Alvarez.

I found a discursive artist statement she wrote for a Fontbonne show in May, so I know she hails from Racine, Wisconsin, flirted with attenting the U.S. Naval Academy because she is so crazy about diving, dropped out of college at one point and worked in a plywood factory, grocery store, book store and peanut shop, then did time in Charleston, South Carolina and Florence, Italy - two cities that merge, in her mind, as the birthplace(s) of her independence and love of place.

Independence, love of place: these are promising qualities in an artist who will be engaging with The Sydney Highrise Variations, a poem about a place (among other things) by a fiercely independent-minded Australian poet.

She came to St. Louis for graduate school (not an unusual visual artist paradigm) and has stayed eight years. She lives in Dogtown with her little family and cats is "thrilled that I am still making art." (Here she is, working in the studio to the strains of Gillian Welch.)

She says, "I love materials - soap, latex, paper, handmade paper, fabric, horse hair, clay and lights. I think that working heavily (for me) with materials is a strategy that I have created for myself that allows me to make mistakes. Drawing seems really precious to me and I can get really nervous if I have to put pencil to paper but if I sew into the paper, which functions exactly like a drawn mark, then I feel more at ease."

I hope she puts herself at ease, surrounded with her materials, and I am sure she will make something interesting in response to Les' poem. She will find herself in the company of a poet who also has an affection of materials. In fact, the poem opens with him getting imaginatively in the guts of the Gladesville Bridge Road over Sydney Harbor, imagined as "a space probe,"

a trajectory of strange fixed dusts, that were milled,
boxed with steel rod mesh and fired, in stages,
from sandstone point to point.
My cowriter and coproducer Matt Fuller and I also love materials and process. For this precise part of the poetry score, in fact, we decided to work with a songwriting tape we made in Coldwater Canyon above Los Angeles. We worked up a number of songs there - as a hollow in the hills, it is itself an example of highrise variations, of highs and lows - and wanted some of its atmosphere in our final project. Though Adam Long and I later added Christopher Y. Voelker, asking him to play "a trajectory of strange fixed dusts" on his violin, which he knew just how to do.


"Also, it's a space probe"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men w/ Chris Voelker

More in this series

Jeremy Rabus, complex in his levels and his heights
Dante, Cromwell & the phenomenon of the century
Edmondson to make pinewood derby for Invitational
Dana Smith confirms for 2009 Art Invitational
Colin Michael Shaw confirms for 2009 Art Invitational


The image is Farrell Blue (2008), by Gina Alvarez, which of all her work I was able to find and poach online plays the most with vertical space. Not that all the work in this show will or should, but it gives me a principal of selection in picking preview images!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jeremy Rabus, complex in his levels and his heights

I was excited to hear that Jeremy Rabus has confirmed for the 2009 Poetry Scores Art Invitational. Our newest board member Stephen Lindsley recruited him.

I have some memory of Jeremy being a last-minute walk-on to last year's Invitational devoted to the K. Curtis Lyle poem we published, Nailed Seraphim; though I can find no trace of him in the mockup to that show I posted.

These are images of very recent work I have been following, with delight, through Jeremy's social media updates - and I do appreciate artists in any medium who use the internet to share new work and works in progress.

I posted these for their sheer beauty, but also because the poem we are scoring this year, The Sydney Highrise Variations by Australia's most decorated poet Les Murray, is a poem, in part, about vertical space, something Jeremy seems to be exploring at the moment.

As I preview artists who confirm for the Invitational, I am looking for explorations of the vertical - of their own "highrise variations" - though I want to emphasize up front that this is a crude simplification of Les' poem. It's as much about modernity, the growth of cities and the history of Australia as it is about vertical space - the grandeur and danger of very tall things.

This last image of Jeremy's, untitled (and unsold!) on his blog, speaks to me of Les' poem. It is striated, and Les references "Strata Title" ownership of multi-level dwellings. This image also glories in the horizontal as much (or more) than the vertical, and that drills right into the heart of the poem's argument about cities.

Les Murray is, at best, ambivalent about cities. His poem concludes with an image of the metropolis as a constellation of "glittering and genteel towns," and we are left with the sense that the poet is content to leave behind these highrises in all their variations - which are anyway "more complex in their levels," he says, "than their heights".

More complex in their levels than their heights: A phrase that could title this untitled piece by Jeremy Rabus.

The Sydney Highrise Art Invitational is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary Center for the Arts.

More in this series

Dante, Cromwell & the phenomenon of the century
Edmondson to make pinewood derby for Invitational
Dana Smith confirms for 2009 Art Invitational
Colin Michael Shaw confirms for 2009 Art Invitational