Life In Berlin: Sound Poetry At The Goethe Insitute

22 minutes ago

Sound poetry is a unique art form that combines literary and musical composition. Two European sound poetry artists recently performed at the Goethe Institut Washington, and NPR Berlin talked with them about their pieces, their tour of the United States, and their experiences in Washington, D.C.

Antje Vowinckel performs at the Goethe Institut Washington.
Credit Jill Beytin

Antje Vowinckel introduces herself: "My name is Antje Vowinckel and I am a sound artist and radio artist, and I do a lot of things that are between sound and music."

Marc Matter follows suit: "My name is Marc Matter, currently I live in Brussels, and I'm also a sound artist and radio artist, doing stuff for radio."

Vowinckel's piece, titled "Listen Don't Speak" was inspired by, and partially composed of, sounds from vintage language courses.

She explains, "Language courses had a very certain style in the sixties and seventies and had a very certain kind of musical aesthetic. There are some humorous parts and some sad parts, or more serious parts. I use two vinyl players, I use my own voice, I use some objects and the chalkboard with the contact mic." 

She explains her current project, "and then I started thinking about where I can find other interesting speech melodies cause here they are a side effect, because they aren't composed in the language. The language courses were all about pronunciation and the melodies just occurred as a side effect."

Matter had a different approach for his piece.

"Tonight I will do more of an improvisation with material I prepared for the tour and for our shows here, some things that could be considered conceptual sound writing in a way, to use material in a very ordered way, or structural way," he says.

Their U.S. tour included New York and Boston, where they performed and met fellow sound artists. In New York they attended a sound poetry festival.

Matter elaborates, "There were conferences, lectures, and sound performances, all concerning contemporary text sound poetry. Then we also did a performance in Boston with the same program and now in Washington."

They also discovered material for their work in Washington.

Marc Matter performing at the Goethe Institut Washington.
Credit Jill Beytin

Matter says, "during my stay here a new side of my work developed, which was really funny. I visited the archives in Washington, especially about these field recordings, or so called sound science recordings."

Vowinckel continues, "It's funny that Marc mentioned the Smithsonian, because I had been here ten years ago in the Smithsonian, and I had done research on language courses there. And today, it's ten years later, and I could go there and show them the CD and say, 'Here, this is the result of the research I've done ten years ago, and you are mentioned on the CD cover.'"