Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Alex Caldiero, "Beautiful. Idyllic. Isn't it?" [L1]

(Note: In this reading/summary, I practice some of the ethnographic transcription techniques I'll be using as I approach Caldiero's work in my dissertation.)

Caldiero, Alex. “Bite-Sized Poem: Alex Caldiero [‘Beautiful / Idyllic / Isn’t it?’].” YouTube. YouTube, 23 July 2009. Web. 26 Aug. 2010. [L1]

This performance is an example of the interconnecting contexts, processes, and products of the verbal arts. It was produced to be experienced and reproduced online. It was first recorded in 2003 as part of the Interplay: Intransitive Senses multimedia, multi-artist performance that was sponsored by the Another Language Performing Arts Company and transmitted over Internet 2 from the University of Utah to various universities, colleges and research institutions throughout the United States, Asia, Australia and Europe. A video of that performance can be found here. (This poem begins 11:29 into the performance.)

In 2009, the poem was recorded again as part of a larger collection of short poems initiated by Utah Poet Laureate Katharine Coles and intended, I believe, to increase contemporary poetry’s digital profile (each performance is uploaded to YouTube [here and here] in hopes, perhaps, of taking them viral), Caldiero’s act incorporates the body, the entire viewing screen, the range of the poet’s vocal register, and the camera’s ability to direct viewers’ attention in predetermined ways. The event--infinitely repeatable as it is--begins with a close-up of Caldiero’s mouth. Framed thus, he speaks in a near whisper, enunciating each syllable in order to highlight the materiality of his word-sounds and their origin in the body. As the camera pans out, Caldiero repeats the poem ten times, enunciating as before but growing louder with each repetition until, the camera having settled on a view framing the poet’s chest and head, he has reached the other limit of his register and is voicing the words at the top of his lungs. I've attempted to capture these processes in the following transcription:

(Click image to enlarge.)

My scoring of the performance underscores the additive nature of Caldiero’s acoustic recursions and points to the connection between these recursions, his paralinguistic play, and the rhythms of his body. The latter becomes especially apparent when considering the length of each voice cycle (from /b/ to /b/)--11.1 seconds at the beginning of the performance to around 7.0 seconds at the end, the speed mounting as he involves more of his body in the act of voicing the words--and the way Caldiero uses his eyes.

A consideration of the poem's performance contexts is a beneficial way of reading this speech-act, which makes full use of its context (the Internet and the viewing screen, to name two) to cull something of a collaborative response from the audience. And it is only in (re)performance that the response can be provoked: simply reading the text on my computer screen, I can’t grasp the gravity of the poem’s catechistic reenactment. But by taking the cues Caldiero offers through his infinitely repeatable performance (cues that become more evident and analyzable once the event--brief and reiterative as it is--has been scored), I can begin to enter and understand what might at first seem like an infinite loop of meaningless chatter, or, as Chelsey Richarson more explicitly puts it: “WTF or Possible Internet Terrorism."

Indeed, by considering the performance venue--a video uploaded to the Internet--and the way Caldiero has orchestrated his speech-act to fit within the viewing screen, I can begin to make connections between the event and the shared contexts out of which it arises. Since the video begins with a close-up of the poet’s mouth whispering the poem, I can consider, first, the “beauty” of the actions associated with speech--with sounds origins in the body and with the materiality of language as a process of voice. This leads to a broader consideration of Caldiero’s sonosophic project--of the wordshaker’s attempts to spark a greater awareness in his audience (among other things) of what language is, how language means, where it exists in the body, and its role within human communities. Additionally, as the performance continues and the poem is repeated, each time with more intensity and physical expression, his words metonymically convey something near solemnity for language and its present context (hypermedia) to an ironic, fully-voiced performance of the same and of contemporary (hyper-)masculinity. However, to grasp this metaphoric metamorphosis, I need to be tuned into Caldiero’s performance cues and to the context(s)/traditions that contribute to how the oral poem means, something I've only just begun to explore here.