Sound

Post ALA Panel Notes: Ronald Johnson's Formal, Transgeneric, and Multimedia Innovations by James belflower

For the American Literature Association’s 2019 conference, Mark Scroggins organized a panel of wonderful papers that explored Johnson’s monumentalizing urge, gastrophilosophy, and sound art. It was a privilege presenting with…

  • Sally Connolly: “Formal Innovation and Ergodic Invitation in Ronald Johnson’s ‘Blocks to Be Arranged in a Pyramid: In Memoriam AIDS’.”

  • Devin King: “The Invisible Spire: Ronald Johnson’s ARK 38 and Bay Area Radio Drama.”

The excellent panel presentations helped me decide to start the book I’ve been toying with, a study of Ronald Johnson’s gastrophilosophy. My panel paper explored taste at the bookends of his publishing career, from his first book of poetry, A Line of Poetry a Row of Trees (1967) to his most comprehensive cookbook, The American Table: More Than 400 Recipes That Make Accessible for the First Time the Full Richness of American Regional Cooking. There is so much more, however, mixed throughout his oeuvre. His monument at the beginning of ARK to the Native staple “Bison Bison Bison,” his comparison of the brain to an orange, a critique of Columbus’s misunderstanding of the variegation of Native Corn, a taste of Thoreau’s “Wild Apples,” and a taste of William Bartram’s bitter orange salad dressings. I’ll explore all of these and more. I’ll let you know when the book is out!

L to R: James, Nathan, Devin, Mark. Disclaimer: The Bukowski Bar choice was not based on the quality of his poetry but of the beer list.

L to R: James, Nathan, Devin, Mark. Disclaimer: The Bukowski Bar choice was not based on the quality of his poetry but of the beer list.

Birds Wheeling Flick Audibility by James belflower

For me, lines of bird flight are always audible. Birds wheeling flick the quick wisps of the conductor's baton tip into the blue, they curve shimmering notes up over the top staff line, or they bend like a light arc flickering through a lens pointed into the sun. But even more than resonating with other phenomenon, bird murmurs draw me into that moment of alien self-organization where I am confronted with confluences completely outside myself. Jane Bennett calls minor experiences like this enchanting and argues that they can remind us how wonder reorients our perception toward less habituated modes of experience. What I enjoy in enchantment is that although I associate the organized kinesis of the bird's swooping with musical expressiveness, the fact that birds understand what constitutes music differently than we do means that this expression is not reducible to a culturally legible melody or form. In short, bird murmurs remind me that there is always a pressure on the cultural conditioning my hearing and vision emerge through. I find this pleasure enchanting. 


Bennett, Jane. The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.

Canyons Tour @ PS1 in Iowa City 10.9.16 by James belflower

Performance Space One

Performance Space One

The Canyons tour ended its first phase in Iowa City at Performance Space one, hosted by John Éngelbrecht. It was a lovely night. The performance artist Jillian Weise screened pointedly political videos of her alter ego Tipsy Tullivan, and poet Raj Chakrapani read from a new work that blended poetry with voice-overs of prominent public figures. Matthew and I played a longer set than previous readings and we enjoyed plugging into PS1's sound system for two reasons. One, we didn't have to lug all our equipment in and out! Two, it was vastly superior! I'll post audio of this performance over the weekend so check back soon! We are in Providence toward the end of October, so if you're in the area we hope to see you. The rest of our tour schedule is available here.

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Canyons Tour @ Absinthe and Zygote in Chicago, 10.8.16 by James belflower

Photo courtesy of Matthew Klane

Photo courtesy of Matthew Klane

Another amazing evening on the Canyons tour! After a few too many coffees Matthew and I landed in Chicago for our 3rd performance at the Experimental Sound Studio. Anne Shaw and Toby Altman hosted us at Absinthe and Zygote an innovative performance series that changes locations for each event, from dark rooms, to crowded elevators, to hair salons. In front of the welcoming pink baffle backdrop of the Experimental Sound Studio it was a night of multimedia projections, polyvocality, and hilarious characters. We opened our set with "Welcome to Colorado" and sonically constructed an environment in which the "pure products of America go crazy." Little did we know how well that would resonate with the other performers. Poet and playwright Kate Morris read next, projecting maplike watercolor images in the corner of the room. She was followed by Olivia Lilley, whose comparisons of dating life to The Lord of the Rings had everyone cracking up. Olivia Cronk's reading of Louise and Louise and Louise ended the evening, quickly switching through the voices of a slew of characters, inhabiting each deftly. We read in Iowa City on the 10th, and will pick up the tour again on October 22nd in Providence. Hope to see you there!

We just arrived home yesterday so audio of the tour will be posted soon!

Kate Morris

Kate Morris

Olivia Lilley

Olivia Lilley

Olivia Cronk

Olivia Cronk