Experiments in Disintegrating Language / Konkrete Canticle (1971)

Bob Cobbing main page on UbuWeb Sound

Side 1: Experiments in Disintegrating Language

  1. Charles Verey Blood Rumba

  2. Charles Verey morning was

  3. Neil Mills Seven Number Poems

  4. Thomas A. Clark Spell for Sarah

  5. Charles Verey Some very idle diamonds reset for John Ruskin

  6. Neil Mills Gong Poem

  7. Neil Mills Squalinda

  8. Thomas A. Clark Some Flowers

  9. Charles Verey r t e p gr a

  10. Charles Verey n annu eve

  11. Charles Verey f yo o t Ne toKi

  12. Charles Verey ip og it u

  13. Charles Verey cry jim sped

  14. Charles Verey whi ing & wou ing tend her

  15. Neil Mills (with Elaine Mills) Number Poem for 2 Voices (two sections)

  16. Thomas A. Clark Mantra

Side 2: Konkrete Canticle

  1. Paula Claire Breeze

  2. Bob Cobbing Ga(il s)o(ng)

  3. Michael Chant Coacervate Poem

  4. Paula Claire Energygalaxy

  5. Bob Cobbing Suesequence

  6. Paula Claire Astound

  7. Bob Cobbing A sandwich poem, consisting of Poem for Voice and Mandoline and Poem for Gillian

  8. Bob Cobbing Hymn to the sacred mushroom


Experiments in Disintegrating Language

Thomas A. Clark, Neil Mills and Charles Verey have given readings under this title since summer 1970. An interest in the basic elements of language as poetic material provides a common theme for the three very individual approaches.

Charles Verey, born 1940 in Sherborne, Dorset.

Blood Rumba and morning was were written during termtime while I was a full time art teacher. All the poems I wrote then were accompaniments to the constant pressure of working. They demanded an accompanying drone which I made originally on a gutted piano. In the recording studio I read Blood Rumba straight, and gave the pitch of the drone behind morning was by singing and the beat by tapping with my fingers.

The Very Idle Diamonds are single ideas set starkly diamond shape on the centre of the page. Visually they are as near as I ever came to the constellations of the 'concrete' poets, but they retain a personal anarchy.

Of my third group of poems, the earliest, whi ing and wou ing tend her, is a dirty poem. The latter part is the first half backwards. In relation to most of my poetry of that time (1969-mid 1970) it is expansive in nature. Most else, including ip og it u and cry jim sped, was part of a process of reduction. This was not for the sake of experimentation, but for a need to discipline the inner eye. At the same time, the need arose to fuse the eye and the ear. I was attempting this by identifying with fragments, small groups of letters, that sounded in the mind, but could not be articulated aloud. More expansive poems, including the first three of this sequence, arose with the need to articulate aloud again. To 'see' these poems is to cause them to sound in the inner mind. That sound is the content. The work of the poem begins there.

Neil Mills
born 1943 in Suffolk.

The single-voice Number Poems, a selection of which appear on this record, were written in April/May 1969 at a time when I believed that the meaning which emerged in the reading of poetry lay primarily in intonation and rhythm, and only secondarily in semantic content i.e. that what was important was how something was read, rather than what was said - the human voice functioning as musical instrument.

Numbers were unpromising poetic material and provided a very limited range of spoken sound-values, but it appeared that if organised into certain juxtapositions and rhythmic breaks, and read with the regard for pitch, volume and sensitivity accorded to more traditional poetry reading, they could be made to yield an unexpected lyrical or evocative content. The major influence on the Number Poems as a sequence were the Ludwig Koch bird-song records, each separate number poem like a different bird-song.

Originally written for a modern dance group, the Number Poem for 2 Voices was a later extension of the use of spoken numbers into a 2-voice score, two sections of which are included on this record.

The Gong Poem is the evocation of a prayer-chant, employing the sounds of 12 of the letters of the alphabet instead of the ten number sounds. Squalinda is an oddity, dating from 1968, using a mixture of normal dictionary words plus invented but suggestive words. It reads as an advert for a blue movie which achieves an orgasm.

Thomas A. Clark
born 1944 in Greenock. Scotland.
Making poems since 1964.

I am interested in the poem as legitimate magic, i.e. science. The business of the poem is to insinuate perceptibly into the mind. The extent to which it will succeed is in exact relation to the precision of its structure. Plain, unadorned speech, of course, is structured, and in Some Flowers my immediate concern is with the fundamental poetic discipline of recognition. This poem notices and records. The form is easy but not lax - there is no grammatical padding - concise naming throughout.

Spell for Sarah is a love poem, a field of relationships. It has some of the perfection of context I take love to be. Consciousness too can only arise through context, so again we have recognition, and, perhaps, the roots of consciousness in love.

Mantra is more purely sound; specifically, my sound; the sound of my breathing. Inhalation is the acceptance of the world, speech is a return, is a gift of self. Again the structure is precise but no attempt at synchronisation of the tracks has been made. The elements move according to their nature, so their position is always within the piece. The word Tathagata is one of the names of the Buddha.

These poems are magic in that they acknowledge correspondence. There are laws. We are not separate from the instances of space. Speech is articulation.

Konkrete Canticle

Bob Cobbing and Paula Claire have performed many times together, his poems and hers; and Bob Cobbing and Michael Chant have also performed together at the broadly musical occasions of Private Company. But 6 July 1971 when the material for side two of this record was recorded was the first occasion on which all three had performed together, and thus the birth of the group now known as Konkrete Canticle.

Bob Cobbing
born 1920 in Enfield, Middlesex.

About the poems, Ga(il s)o(ng) is for Gail and is a kind of love poem, a permutation on the letters of the names Bob and Gail. Suesequence is for Sue, whom I discovered at its first performance in Amsterdam, November 1970. The sandwich poem consists of (outer) Poem for Voice and Mandoline, for Linda Keep, a permutation on her name; and (inner) Poem for Gillian, made out of the letters of her name. The final poem, Hymn to the sacred mushroom, is a celebration of the names for the mushroom in various languages and parts of the world. I have been called a concrete poet. (I have also been told by certain doctrinaire critics that I am not a concrete poet.) My type of poetry freely follows the line of Oyvind Fahlstršm of Sweden, who in 1953, earlier than Gomringer or the Brazilian concrete poets, wrote his manifesto concerned with the 'intuitive logic of likeness, of sympathetic magic' stemming from the sound of words, and with rhythm as the 'most elementary, physically grasping' aspect of poetry, as well as of music, relating as it does to bodily functions, breathing, pulsing of the blood, ejaculation.

All the poems here performed exist also on the page, some almost like conventional poems, others in more graphic form. The shapes on the page help to suggest an interpretation. The interpretation, every time, is spontaneous and flexible, and so, each time, different, according to who takes part, the mood of the moment, the audience or situation. These sound poems do not, therefore, exist in a single definitive form. Even the graphic interpretation is a variable.

The poems are for participation, for living in, rather than for communication. They are for anyone to enter into and to enjoy doing so. The movement of the voice making the poem can be paralleled in movement of the body, making dance. The graphic design, the vocal pattern and the bodily movement are all the poem. Poetry is becoming once again a folk art. It is for everyone.

Paula Claire
born 1939 in Northampton.

When I first started writing in 1961 my two influences were Gerard Manley Hopkins and that supreme example of mediaeval alliterative verse, 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. Both show the power in the sound of words and G.M.H. begins to transcend syntax. I soon rejected a discursive style with a strict syntax but it took until 1966 to develop my 'mobile' style where groups of words (embedded in a traditionally-structured text) could be improvised to form complex metaphors. By 1968 I was writing entirely in word clusters with the idea of improvisation and audience participation. At this time I returned to England after four years in Athens to publish 'Mobile Poems, Greece' and soon met Bob Cobbing and started to work with him on texts for improvisation.

Non-syntactical poetry, the concentrated form of which can be called concrete poetry, is running parallel with one of the main routes of twentieth-century enquiry: the concentration on the seemingly small atom/nucleus only to discover complex and terrific forces. When words are isolated and examined, in their sound and visual components we find a corresponding density and potential. The intense focus of the concrete poetry style is doing for our understanding of the innate powers of words what the electron microscope and nuclear accelerators are doing for the study of the heart of matter.

My Energygalaxy attempts to be a metaphor of the whirl of elementary particles in the nucleus and as the sounds of the very words which make up the metaphor are isolated, emphasised, so is their ferocity revealed. Note the last word is 'explosive' not exploding, explosion, or exploded, to remind us of the potential disaster in nuclear fission and nuclear stockpiling. Both this poem and Astound I see as coloured, flashing neon structures for tall buildings.

Astound would be best improvised by groups of people on a beach to the oncoming breakers. All my poems are for the audience to improvise with the poet so that the power and magic of language is experienced as a communal right/rite.

Michael Chant
born 1945 in Wakefield.

On this record, is one of 54 coacervate poems which were written between March and July 1967. Coacervates are complex chemical agglomerates which it is alleged, were immediate precursors of the origin of life. In a prologue to the poems, I stated that performance in diverse circumstances and varied manner is encouraged. The confines of a recording studio impose their own restraint. In general, the making of a recording seems to demand a responsibility to make a definitive version of the poetic material, and it may have been because of this that, in interpreting the poems of Bob Cobbing and Paula Claire, my over-riding state of mind was that this was a day's work, there was a job to be done. In a live performance, my musical instincts would demand a fulfilment unpredictably different.

The Arts Council is grateful to the British Council, Recorded Sound Section for the production of the master tapes.

Recorded by Murray Marshall & Tony Spalton.

Published by the Arts Council of Great Britain, October 1971.