WEST COAST INTERNATIONAL SOUND POETRY FESTIVAL
by Stephen Ruppenthal
After years of sound poetry festivals in Europe, the Bay Area ( and the U.S.) finally got a taste of what it's like to have one here. The First West Coast International Festival of Sound Poetry, held at La Mamelle, Inc., a performance/gallery space on 12th Street in San Francisco, on November 18th through 20th  was a spectacular event in terms of the performances and the number of people who participated.
Sound poetry, a sonic art which integrates the forms of poetry, music, and theater through the vocable gestures of the voice, is certainly not a new art . In Europe, sound poetry has received attention and recognition through ten years of text-sound composition (the art's high technological genre) festivals sponsored by Fylkingen in Sweden and numerous other festivals in Amsterdam and Paris, besides having a history which extends back to the turn of the century.
In this country, sound poetry presentations, either real-time performances or tape concerts, have been extremely isolated events. Usually, pieces are sandwiched in between works of contemporary music or become equal partners in dance or theater productions. Some of the notable recent exceptions to this have been the soirees of sound poetry produced by the Bay Area Dadaists, spotlighted radio programs on individual artists and their work (produced by various sound composers i.e., Charles Amirkhanian, Ingram Marshall, and Jack Stone, to name just a few), and presentations of sound poetry produced and/or created by such artists as Lawrence Kucharz, Henry Rasof, the Horseman, Larry Wendt, Ingram Marshall, Phil Niblock, Laurie Anderson, or Charles Amirkhanian.
The current festival opened Friday evening with a piece by the present author titled Cloud Forests (1977). Performed by Charles Amirkhanian, Toby Lurie, and the composer, Cloud Forests is an obscure haze of three separate texts. The first is an ongoing narration, at times hypnotic, on the nature of clouds, and of images derived from the word "cloud". The second text is an oblique commentary on the first, emphasizing the concept of fragmentary thoughts and language. The third text, spoken by the composer, was processed through an electronic music system and, along with sound generated by the instrument, became the cloud on which the other commentaries rested.
At times the blend between the voices and the electronic sounds became a mesh into which each text commented on one another and provided yet another layer. The ending of the work was a poeme simultan of totally fragmented texts combined with the barely intelligible speech of the composer's electronically manipulated voice.
Following Cloud Forests, an incredibly articulate and exiting performance of various, mostly original works was given by Manuel Neito and Bernice Roberto.
After a short intermission, the poet Julius Ward gave a reading of a little over a dozen of his earlier sound poems.
As the 20th century origins of sound poetry in the west lie in the Futurist and Dadaist movements in the arts, it was fitting for the opening night of the festival to include some of the original energies. The Bay Area Dadaists in conjunction with the F.T. Marinetti Brigade provided this authenticity. Noise Music/a Performance in 5 Parts included appearances by Anna Banana, Bill Gaglione, Buster Cleveland and Boyd Rice.
True to the spirit of the Cabaret Voltaire, their performances literally "broke" the evening up. Anna Banana craved the audiences indulgence with her Vowel Refrain, a vocalist repeating the vowels chromatically ascending and descending a slightly modified major scale. Then a closely aligned cohort "Yuk Yuk Banana" proceeded to exhort the audience to even greater heights by a series of impromptu tap dances while trying valiantly to keep her rubber clown nose in place and having little success.
The next section of the Dadaist performance was a work titled "Hommage to Cavellini and Ray Johnson" by Buster Cleveland, assisted by Bill Gaglione. During the short course of the piece, a sheet of newspaper was gradually wrapped around Gaglione's head and taped. As this was taking place, he would call out "Cavellini!" and Cleveland would reply "Ray Johnson". As the newspaper was taped into place, the cries became more frantic. A beautiful absurd piece of theater.
The 'piece d'resistance' of the Dadaists was by Boyd Rice, entitled "Sound Poem in Two Parts'. Rice walked to the window of the third floor performance space, opened it, and with grim determination threw a television onto the sidewalk below! what else can be said, you had to be there.
The final work by the Bay Area Dadaists took place in the basement of La Mamelle in a long, high-ceilinged garage. In almost total darkness, Bill Gaglione and other Dadaists performed a strange and macabre ritual which included the showing of slides of various parts of the human body being operated on, while in the garage a guitar was being smashed into small pieces. All this by the light of the projector, a small TV monitor, and a flashlight. The Dadaist's performance as a whole was reminiscent of original Dadaists soirees of the WWI ear.
In a completely different vein, Jim Petrillo and Betsy Davids performed three works written by Davids" Dada's last Words, Would she Like it If I Were Einstein, and Big Mac. pp.3,7,8