Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Day of Sounding and Resounding

I've heard Paul Dutton perform once when we were invited to give a couple of readings in Toronto and Ottawa. We were in the Victory Cafe, and Paul stood behind me on a bench and began reading a poem which was filled with a series of sounds that I couldn't believe were being created by a human. His was the most memorable reading of the evening. I don't remember what anyone else read, including myself - I remember Paul's marvelous and surprising utterances.

Yesterday I participated in a Soundsinging and Sound Poetry workshop with Paul. We organized a reading and workshop with him for the community at the studio, and we partnered with Wilkes University so he could give another reading through the Creative Writing Program. (It's tonight at 7 p.m. in Kirby Hall - be there if you can!)

Our Third Friday reading series has a cast of regulars, but there are always a few new people to visit. There was a good energy with the people in Paul's audience on Friday, and surely a few who were unsure what was going on exactly. A young newcomer and her mother shifted uncomfortably in their seats with the first sound poem. One of Paul's poems, titled "Um," starts with him shifting through his papers and saying "um," in a way that makes you think he's forgotten something, or lost his place. The tension builds between the performer and the audience as he continues to shift papers about and say "um, er..." and then you realize that this is part of the poem. It's perfect. Friends I spoke with afterward said that they felt themselves tensing up at first in the reading and then finally relaxing into all of the sound.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the workshop, but I knew what I hoped to gain from it - a better sense of what type of house my body is for sound. Paul started us off with a short talk on the physicality and mechanics of sound in the body, and how the body holds tensions and memories in the muscles. He led us through a long relaxation and deep breathing session, where we were all supine on the floor, with heavy limbs and sleepy eyes. This was probably the longest deep breathing exercise I have ever done, and it was completely relaxing. We didn't make any sounds using the larynx yet, just inhalation and exhalation. From that relaxed state, he encouraged us to get up when we were ready, find a place to stand (and we could also move around the room), and begin making sounds. The group split up and found places - one in a corner, one in the bathroom, I stood in my little office for awhile, a few stood in the front near the door. My first sounds were windy, and reminded me of the howling wind of my childhood bedroom at night, which made me cry a little in the imitation of it, and the surety of the memory, which was not an unhappy or scary one, but a kind of comfort and connection with nature that I miss now as an adult. Paul walked around the room. Other workshoppers were making rhythmic noises, and he encouraged us at times to move the sounds we were creating into other parts of the mouth, throat and head (earlier, he gave us a great visual of the mouth as a cave). I was at times aware of the others in the room, and at other times unaware of their sounds. Some of the sounds I made were primal, gutteral, monsterous - and I couldn't keep myself from moving my hands as I made them. The total sound in the room (when I was aware of it) had peaks and valleys I think. There was some laughter, but it was experimental. None of this felt weird to me at all. Before we broke for a long lunch (enough time to digest), we shared our experiences of the session.

The afternoon session included a more improvisational group effort, where we were encouraged to listen to one another, move about the room and create sound. My experience at first was a little more self-aware and awkward, but I eased into it. We finished the day with some group exercises, and a chant. Everyone left feeling energized. And they didn't leave, actually. Most of them came to the house to join us for dinner with Paul.

My friend Mischelle always surprises me, and last night was no exception. She played the piano as soon as we got into the house - some Beethoven sheet music I had on the rest. She's been to the house many times before and never touched the piano. I sat with her and we played duets, and she is such a good sight-reader that I begged her to play some Sondheim, which she did. I sang. When Paul arrived with Dan (and the ingredients for our dinner!) he sat down at the piano and played improvisational boogie woogie and blues. Bananafish (our bird) sang along. Another friend danced. The whole house was sonorous songlorious.

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