As a graphic designer, the themes that have evolved out of my practice are also integral to my ongoing personal explorations into sound based works. These projects are focussed on dissecting discrepancies in form and content between the written and spoken word.
The purpose of the em (or en) dash is wide-ranging —as an appropriation of silence, as acting dissonance, as interruption, as occupying space. In the poems by Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, they seem to function more like performers between the words, creating movement and voice within the text. The exhibition shows these dashes in a real space, turning BOEKS into a performative venue.
The sound piece “Figures for dashing” draws upon my book Baroness Elsa’s em dashes and is used as a live-score by performers inviting us to dash around too.
Drape this em-dash over your shoulders. Wear it as a swirling proposition, as a ‘joy mark’. Dash around just like Elsa did, for you are now wearing typography.
—(take a breath)
This em-dash is a homage to Dadaist artist and poet Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874 – 1927). Her poems; performances; costumes and lifestyle all made a point of challenging established bourgeois artistic and moral conventions with an unapologetically feminist, proto-punk aesthetic. Elsa’s ‘signature’ in writing was her manic use of em dashes within her poems. In a quick and simple dash, Elsa had found the perfect material for an expansive range of meaning. The em dash is flexible, working as an appropriation of silence, as acting dissonance, as interruption, as occupying space. The em dash is forceful, able to stamp silence loudly into a page; and when spoken, these punctuation marks seem to function more like performers between words, creating movement and voice within text.
—(take a breath)
Now, with an uncharacteristic flop, the em dash has fallen from the page to become a wearable embodiment of Baroness Elsa’s creative spirit—its fluffy surface brought into being from paper fibers and strands of ink. Having suddenly transformed into a scarf, the em dash oscillates between writing and performance; as it moves through the streets, its intimations are aroused by intention of the wearer.
—(take a breath)
Should you happen to be seen from atop, you will have become a moving line that punctuates space with your lengthy bulge. A figure for dashing, you leave no space on either side. No space between life or art.
“A Book for All Readers” was originally published in an anthology of the same title during the late 19th century. The book itself was conceived as a guide to the formation of libraries and the collection, use, and preservation of books. The poem appears in the chapter entitled ‘humors of the library’ (p. 442).
Rap, itself a deeply historically loaded musical style derived from poetic traditions, was applied to the poem’s printed words through a collaborative process. Thus, the outcome is transformed words; newly made into a ‘Song for All Readers’. The act of rhyming the oration of the sacred librarian line by line echoed the protest songs and slogans being sung at the time: demanding #FreeEducationForAll and open access to knowledge for future generations.
There has never been complete consensus on what the key influences on Kurt Schwitters were when he was preparing his sound poem “Ursonate” (1922–1932). One myth claims he was inspired by bird sounds.
I strongly believe this to be true and wanted to bring the birds back their primordial song—their Ursonate. “Urbirds singing the Sonata” narrates and describes what Kurt Schwitters might have heard when he wrote his poem.
Kerning pairs are something profoundly technical in a typeface, yet this is where each one draws its breath from. Initially invisible, in «Kerning to Speech» they become their very own literary script. And it is only with Houdini, Triptych, Compagnie, Polymer, Vulture and Vulgaire that this piece of text evolves to a notation which is meant to be performed and meant to be heard. In a medieval manner the speaker uses her eyes to hear, modelling her perception of the written word upon the experience of the spoken one. Instead of mumbling, the kerning pairs get loudly pronounced as the reader goes along. Moreover, in the tradition of the voces paginarum [voices of the page] they become a persona and tune into the chorus of the Pyte’s type catalogue.
“Het Liedeken” is a forgotten song restaged. It finds its origins in a ceremonial song that was sung by printers from the famous Plantin-Moretus Press—located in Antwerp, Belgium. This printing press was founded by Christophe Plantin, and played a profound role in Europe’s book printing trade from the 16th to 17th centuries. Upon acceptance into the printing guild, new journeymen would celebrate together with their Godfathers and reaffirm their commitment to their work by singing this very song. One of the requests made in the lyrics is for good treatment and fair pay to ensure their work’s proper quality.
Today, only the lyrics of this song remain and as such, its performative value has been rendered somewhat uncertain by the loss of its melody. I invited a group of employees from the Plantin-Archives that are located in the original site of the press—now a world heritage site—to join me in speculating on what its sound, or melody, might have been. Each person was asked to sing the song with a melody and tone they imagined would have been sung by their ancestral co-workers, thus creating on record an implausible continuation of oral history.
Silo Music is refers to an acoustic phenomenon which can occur during the emptying of a metal or concrete silo. Although its name might connote a pleasant melody, Silo Music in fact refers to an extremely loud noise from within the silo’s structure as its contents are discharged. These frequencies and vibrations can result in serious structural damage to silos and their surroundings, and have been the subject scientific research worldwide. This could explain why there are hardly any recordings of it, as it is more likely for people to want to solve ‘a noise problem’, rather than listen to it for its sonic qualities. My work, “Silo Music” is a score of these unforeseeable sounds composed with reference to acoustic descriptions of the sound made by scientists. For this particular recording, the score acted as a starting point for an improvised re-interpretation by Swiss musicians Daniel Steffen and Beat Unternährer.
Sleeping disorders are internationally classified into 88 categories that range from “Long Sleep” to “Psychophysiologic Insomnia”. In this sound piece, a calm male voice recites one disorder after another, in a recital reminiscent of the long fabled method of ‘counting sheep’ to get to sleep. At last, the 88 categories of sleep disorders have been remodelled into a sleep inducing list as opposed to one focussed entirely on sleep deprivation.
“Astrid Seme has found a space for resonance within the gaps inherent in spoken language. In typography, a blank space is typically understood to be static—defined by formal conventions which if threatened, could be seen to threaten the entire structural integrity of a text. Space between spoken words, on the other hand, is ephemeral; less defined, less subject to formal evidential scrutiny and thereby fertile ground for new explorations. In her piece, Wien Mitte [Vienna Center], Astrid has located resonance between the two words “Wien” and “Mitte”. Performed by a male voice, this piece slowly zooms into the point at the center of the two words, between “n” and “M”, paying special attention to the short break that is necessary to link the words together. What sounds at first like linguistic analysis becomes increasingly abstract, until it eventually evolves into a musical tune—a cello playing at the center of Vienna Center.” —Mark Pezinger