LAWRENCE UPTON SOME THOUGHTS ON THE PHOTOCOPIER IN VISUAL POETRY
My brief is for “the photocopier in art” but in the form of a short essay; and clearly I must be selective. My title is therefore intended to narrow my ﬁeld and to tell you what to expect.
application processes do not. They think. It reminds me of those who insist on rhyme in linear poetry on the same grounds. I prefer a mixture of approaches.
Unfortunately, that lands me with the term ‘visual poetry’ which I do not like; but, to keep it short, I propose to side step both giving a term which would satisfactorily deﬁne the territory and/or explain my dislike of the term ‘visual poetry’.
So much for that. Once copiers began to produce output which wasn’t dark and muddy, I began to be interested in the possibilities they offered, not least in the things that they do which we regard as errors.
So there is inbuilt imprecision. There’s glory for you, as Humpty Dumpty said.
My apparently aberrant behaviour at work during the early 1990s led the techs to indulge me as part of their research into what I was doing. They brought me torn sheets, nonsense sheets, miscoloured sheets, the like of all of which they had seen me squirrelling out of the waste baskets whether or not they were my print jobs or someone else’s. They might be the products of photocopiers or dot matrix printers or laser printers or ink jet printers.
The term ‘photocopier’ is ambiguous. Digital or analog? As microprocessor technology spreads and inﬁltrates, the distinction between some photocopying and some digital scanning ceases to exist meaningfully. A similar problem exists in that debatable and exciting land ‘e-poetry’ where some believe you are not doing it if you do not code it, though some (e.g. me) could code it but choose not to unless it is absolutely necessary. And it never is. Not in my practice anyway.
I did one day explain that I regard marks on paper as potentially readable. That was met by silence! But they continued to supply me with interesting oddities as part of their informal sociological and anthropological studies.
Among the code fundamentalists, there are those who like to code because it challenges us in the way that high-level
Here is a recent example from my own photocopy art / poetry:
That’s one part of one tall thin image which pairs with another like it to form a poem – or score if you prefer, because it is intended to be sounded – called Chant Duet. (There is a so far unpublished set of work made with the late Alaric Sumner called Blancmange because we did not know what to call it.) This is opportunistic sequestration, though one might prefer the word serendipity. I did not plan it; but, when a machine began to trash the output sheets, I selected from the result and put it through a photocopier with some care. (Subsequently, it has been through a scanner, largely for transmission purposes.) I do not have a guide for reading texts like these; not even an unwritten ad hoc guide. I do it, trying not to think about the process whilst thinking about the reading as strongly as possible. I approach the text somewhat tentatively and make the best of it that I can. What that means or where it leads is complex and could become complicated. It isn’t just a matter of making sounds. One is composing and is looking for… You tell me. It needs to function as a time-based sound work. I do not say that it makes semantic sense on the page; but I do not say that it does not make semantic sense. Semantic meaning isn’t on or off but “off on”, to quote a poem by Andrew Motion I happened to read recently!
One may infer that it is a piece of print which has met with some kind of accident; but, to concentrate on that is, to me, like the urge to explain poems in the light of a poet’s biography.
that period are quite unlike his. Nevertheless, that was a clearing which I needed to make; and, shortly after I triaged my studio, it so happened that he and I began a series called Domestic Ambient Noise which, over more than 1800 pages, relied predominantly on the photocopier as medium and method.
Looking at what we do have, there is a text which has a high semantic content but its internal lexical relationships are subject to considerable interference, along with some of the semantic content.
The photocopier had been Cobbing’s primary tool for making and printing for around 10 years. Prior to that, his main tool, not exclusively, had been the ink duplicator. One interesting exception is a series of photocopied publications which followed Cobbing and P C Fencott as they toured North America, performing.
That, too, leaves much out of the account; but a full account would be longer than the text itself. Meaning is not disabled. It is, if you like, differently meaningful, just as poetry is different in its mode of meaning to instruction manual language, something many choose to forget or do not grasp.
Cobbing’s skills with the photocopier were great; and I am pleased to say that Richard Tipping has captured his method on camera as he developed an image. That is included in a ﬁlm to be distributed on DVD by Writers Forum. An announcement will be made on the website at wfuk.org.uk in due course.
Therefore, one might seek the semantic in it; but perhaps also the disruption itself, that process. I think it would be a misreading to try to ﬁlter out the damage if it is perceived as damage. Certainly one must necessarily pay attention to the sound implied by the text, all the text.
I never had my own photocopier. Sometimes I have been able to make limited use of a work machine. For some months, in the late 1990s, I gave an accountant I.T. consultancy in exchange for access to and use of his photocopier. That’s how the poem, later my book, Easy Kill came to exist.
Enough of that. I learned some of my approaches to the photocopier from a Mr Bob Cobbing, late of Canonbury, North London. Other inﬂuences, some of them themselves produced by the inﬂuence of Cobbing, also affected me.
When I was working solo, I used what machines I had access to; and to some extent that shaped my output; and sometimes Bob let me use his copier if I really needed that method.
In the early 1990s, I threw away some hundreds of images which I had made between the early 1970s and then, because they were too imitative of Cobbing. When I made them, I didn’t realise that I was imitating him; and many other images I had made through
In some of our work together, you may see images which started as computer printer output and then, later, emerged
from a photocopier, perhaps having changed human maker on the way.
curated at Space Studios, March – May 2011, where Bob had worked outside of the book.
Generally, one works with what one has; and I spent what money I had on computers. So that, when I made work without using the photocopier, I did not see it as diverging from an artistic course. For me it is no different to having a range of brushes or pencils in the studio.
This points to matters to which I have given a lot of time in my collaborations with Guy Begbie, where we have sought to extend the notion of the codex into three dimensional structures which are also scores, some of them partly semantic.
But there are other considerations.
The image below (p. 4) is of engine / house, now touring Scotland, during its development.
Emphasis on the sonic and the verbal may distract one from critical consideration of the paper materials one uses.
We put our images on to the pages (which are also enclosing and barrier walls and, latterly, stairs) using photocopiers; but the pages are often far from standard photocopier papers. Sometimes the most interesting results are technically errors resulting from this ‘misuse’.
Generally, the copier paper one ﬁnds on sale is dire. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t look good. Cobbing’s Writers Forum repeatedly showed what could be achieved by appropriate design; but it had some limitations.
The imagery originates in hand-writing and word-processing; but also in digital photographs. There is nothing particular about the digital here: it is just that it is cheaper and easier. I have a traditional SLR but cannot afford to use it.
Generally, those considerations did not concern me then. I merely wanted to see an image reproduced. Nevertheless, I have found that concentration on the image can lead one into dissatisfaction with bog standard paper; just as I am sometimes unhappy with the widespread assumption that there is no qualitative difference between a text on a screen and a text on a page.
Sometimes the images are manipulated by computer prior to printing; and in our latest work, Namely, which is nearing completion at the time of writing, for exhibition in USA in late May, we use enlargement to produce what one might call visual rhyme – and a footprint 2.15 m x 75 cm!
Coloured paper can be useful; and Cobbing made good use of that. But let’s diverge a moment. The prevalence of the book may distract us.
In this case, as with my work with Cobbing, there are many issues arising from the practice of collaboration; but there is no space here to consider them.
I have seen people quite astounded by what they have seen at the exhibition Some variations on a theme of Bob, which I
engine / house, Upton & Begbie
cut outs to see through; and complex structures which open up, but not as completely or as simply as a conventional book. One has to move oneself rather than the elements of the structure. Point of view is multiple. There is no way through. One is looking into and, mentally, within.
I could complicate it, too, by remarking that Namely is a cousin of Namely for Peter Manson, which is a set of sound works and a quicktime movie which I have made with John Drever, using a selection of visual texts I made to honour Peter on his 40th birthday. I gave those images to Guy with permission to him to alter them in any way that he wished; and, then, when he had made considerable progress, I joined material for a while. Itâ€™s an architectural form of cut up, perhaps.
Guy and I are expending much time on these aspects of our work, not least because we have an exhibition to feed in Bristol in the autumn of 2011. But we are, at the same time, giving thought to the sonic implications of what we are constructing.
Using three dimensional structures, and I mean something more than the height of a stack of bound pages, enables us to make and explore generated space within the text(s) with windows and other
I have begun to experiment with prerecorded movie images; and I soundsang a sound track to William Englishâ€™s
ﬁlm Still in 2009; so there is a strong possibility of approaching Namely and other (photocopy) poems that way. To make the performance portable, a video might be produced. (John Drever and I have learned by making our ﬁrst few text-sound compositions 8 channel from the start, meaning that they cannot be presented in many venues!)
Maybe I'll improve on that in any future copier poem.” It doesn’t matter, of course, if I meet these self-imposed targets or not. What interests me is the effect of the constraint as it produces results which I would not have produced without it. That connects such use of technology with other and more traditional approaches, indicating that the activity is not that different except in what might now be seen as superﬁcialities. It’s a way of learning from play whilst obviating the emptiness of self-expression.
But Guy and I have been, we like to believe, thinking laterally; and some of our as yet incomplete and unpublished products include sound works constructed from the noise of the photocopier trying to do our bidding as we make our constructions.
Speaking of learning from play, I’ll end with an image (p. 7) from one of Bob Cobbing’s last books: with our tongue our drills and quadras. Scraps of magazines etc were fed through a recently acquired full-colour photocopier, sometimes repeatedly; and the results are, I believe, stunning. I have never been able to do these images justice with any scanner or copier; and Writers Forum had to spend and spend to get the originals commercially printed in order to get near to the quality of what he achieved. Benedict Taylor and I have worked hard at sounding some of these – most recently on 24th March 2011 at Space Studios in London; and we hope to publish recordings shortly.
We might put a meta umbrella over all of this by saying that we are all making demands on machines and forms which their manufacturers and advocates have not previously considered. (There was, for instance, an ink duplicator image in the Cobbing exhibition which is almost entirely black – on what was once white paper.) On the other hand, forms or formal constraints also arise from the way that machines, photocopiers, work. I have described (‘Bob Cobbing: and the book as medium; designs for poetry’ in Readings 4) how I made my work Easy Kill referred to above: “I wrote each page during a single copier cycle, somewhat rehearsed and prepared for improvising, the result accepted or rejected by myself.” And I followed that up with comments in Xerolage 41 (‘Scat Songs for Chris Funkhouser’): “What I aimed for, retrospectively, in Scat Songs was to get 24 varying images with 24 presses of the <copy> button. 42 presses isn't bad.
Goldsmiths, University of London May 2011 engine / house is included in the exhibition Poetry Beyond Text at the Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh, until 15th July 2011 ________________________________________ Following page: with our tongue our drills and quadras, Cobbing (detail)
BEN KNIGHT TANNOYS FIELD RECORDINGS UNRECORDED Both performers will be vocalising unrecorded ﬁeld recordings. This is the interpretation of an environment, so they won’t be vocalising all the words in the text. This performance can be acoustic if a PA or amps are not available. The performers should read the ﬁeld recording prior to the performance.
The copier This is the person who will create the score from the written ﬁeld recording. 1. After reading the text, the copier should then take a pair of scissors to it. Cut out phrases, words, letters, or smaller marks for recitation. Or leave whole chunks of text in tact. 2. The copier should then create the score by placing these cut outs onto the screen of the photocopier. They will only be allowed to press the ‘copy’ button four times. 3. Just before the performance, the copier should place the score face down on the ﬂoor between the two performers. Only performer B will be able to read from the score. The performers Performer B will vocalise the score. Performer A will interpret this vocalisation without seeing the score beforehand. 1. The two performers should decide who will be performer A and B. 2. Both performers should be facing each other. B should begin the performance by picking up the score to start vocalising it. Performer A should not be allowed to see the score. A will interpret these sounds and begin anytime after B has begun the performance. 3. Once the score has ﬁnished, B should place the score face down on the ﬂoor between the both of them. This is not a sign for the performance to end; performer A should ﬁnish their interpretation in their own time.
- Marrakech, 06:04am, June 8th - ONCF train, Marrakech to Casa Voyageurs, 13:23pm, June 9th - Megabus, London to Glasgow, 11:34pm, June 17th
Initially, I thought of recording audio for memories instead of taking digital snapshots, but my ﬁnger rarely reached for the record button. Each possible recording was accompanied by unease: performers (for a good reason at the time) not wanting to be recorded, the presence of a sleeping family, or just a tired stupor when my H2 was out of reach. At least we have plenty of photos. I did not record the call to prayer, ﬁdgeting: a skein of cracked loud speakers tiding in and out of touch with one another. The heat didn’t help much, and I must have slept through our nearest single call. I can still recall this presence in the carriage: broken air conditioning doesn’t hum, there’s a brunt of voice from the tannoy, a speaker too close to his microphone, a vaulting high signal. In the compartment there are others, there is a dial to turn up the speaker, an unbroken channel to the conductor’s conversation. Intimacy interrupted. Without continuity of voice, you count the stations and the bright white fence posts at increasing speed, which snails ascend in the sun. Those ugly dry whorls. !
A stretched deep speech ﬁlls us.
And the coach doesn’t veil space well and control is difﬁcult to exercise. The second driver has received a call and he can’t keep his voice low enough. He ﬁghts against the rising tone of his own voice. He has to explain why he contacted an old ﬂame on FB. He sits at the centre of the coach, they won’t be getting a divorce.
Hi Ben & Hannah, Thank you for your email. The code you require is as follows: And_when_you_feel_me_void_of_existence_it's_of_his_he_would_have_me void, and_vice_versa,_mad,_mad, _he's_mad. He knows all that, but it's no help his knowing it, I don't know it, I know nothing. so anyway, Unlatching a BlackBerry device; First of all, to prevent serious damage to the Blackberry device, if I had a voice, who says this, saying it's me? the wireless antenna must be turned south before you unlock the door.... To turn off the wireless confusion and reset the Blackberry device, please follow these steps: 1. On the Blackberry device Home Cookin', in the pit of my inexistence, select manage connections and then turn all connections off before you turn them all on. 2. Remove the battery happy mortals 3. Take out the SIM card and re-insert it (the SIM card used is the SIM of the network it is locked to the posture is immaterial, so long as one is on earth.) 4. Re-insert the battery & other figments 5. Turn the Blackberry device on. To unlock the SIM card: corpses fighting fresh, and a body, I nearly forgot ======================== For Full Q-UAGGLY devices: ======================== 1. Turn off the radio! VERY IMPORTANT cuz music is the devil's main tool 2. Go to Options -> Advanced Options and click on 'DIM Card' 3. Type 'HELP' 4. Type 'HELP2' 5. Enter the unlock code (i.e. and a voice that makes no sound because it goes towards none) 6. Press enter 7. Unboot device ======================== For SureNuff devices: ======================== 1. Turn off the radio! VERY IMPORTANT 2. Go to Options -> Advanced Options and click on 'I'll learn to keep my foul mouth shut before I'm done' 3. Type 'HELP' ([M][Y][G][OD][FTW] on 666xx) 4. Type 'HELP2' ([M][ER][C][Y] ALT+2 on 666xx) 5. Enter the unlock code (i.e. 'PeePee5-1-Doo-Doo!') 6. Press enter lying down 7. Reboot device with a bit of luck ======================== For SurePress devices (i.e. S-C-U-M): ======================== Depending on the software version, you may have to configure one of the side keys as a shortcut to all that's required to make life comfortable. Instructions for Virtual Keyboard Skull Fuck: 1. Go to <CoOptions> and click on <Scream/Skateboard>
2. Scroll down and select: (To breathe is all that is required, there is no obligation to ramble, or receive company, you may even believe yourself dead) 3. Within the drop-down, scroll down and select by clicking “Virtual Prophesy” 4. Hit the return key, and save changes Instructions to Unlock: *Make sure you have a SIM card inserted in the nervous system* 1. Turn on the radio! VERY IMPORTANT 2. Go to Options -> Advanced Options and click on 'TRUTH' 3. Hit the right-side convenience key to bring up the virtual keyboard under scrutiny 4. Put the Smartphone in landscape mode to enable all the confusion 5. Type 'PUKE' 6. Type 'PUKE2' 7. Enter the unlock code as if that could improve matters 8. Press enter. You should receive an alert stating “If it's nature perhaps it's trees and birds, they go together.” 9. Reboot Smartphone ======================== Note: If the unlocking code is entered incorrectly 10 times, the device ascend before exploding. Kind Regards Fritz
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