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“Immersive Media” and the Phenomenological Experience of Listening: A Conversation with Deanna Fong and Jon Saklofske

November 20, 2020
Ali Barillaro

As a video game enthusiast, Ali Barillaro was initially drawn to interview Deanna Fong and Jon Safloske because they had submitted a proposal for the Listening, Sound, Agency Symposium about the dark, fantasy-action adventure game, Hellblade. But when Ali sat down to draft some questions for Deanna and Jon, she found herself curious to hear about how their research partnership began and how it has progressed over the past year. So this interview is as much about how research collaborations develop through shared interests in sound and sound studies methodologies, as it is about their recent work on Hellblade.

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As a video game enthusiast, Ali Barillaro was initially drawn to interview Deanna Fong and Jon Safloske because they had submitted a proposal for the Listening, Sound, Agency Symposium about the dark, fantasy-action adventure game, Hellblade. But when Ali sat down to draft some questions for Deanna and Jon, she found herself curious to hear about how their research partnership began and how it has progressed over the past year. So this interview is as much about how research collaborations develop through shared interests in sound and sound studies methodologies, as it is about their recent work on Hellblade.

As a new member of the SpokenWeb team, I was thrilled to connect with Postdoctoral Fellow and SpokenWeb researcher, Mathieu Aubin, and learn about his work in a more specific context than our weekly meetings. Aubin’s research examines queerness in oral histories and audio recordings of literary events, engaging activist and marginalized voices, content, and […]

Ellen Waterman’s creative and research practices are all about listening together across and through distance and difference. When I spoke with her during our socially distanced summer of the pandemic, I was interested to hear how our current situation has influenced her thinking about what it means to create sound and sound-based work together. What follows is an interview that still attempts to be spontaneous and to listen, even in written form.

In 2018 I had the opportunity to visit one of Chris Mustazza's interdisciplinary literature classes taught at the University of Pennsylvania, a course called Poetry Audio Lab: Modernism & Sound Studies. I was amazed at how seamlessly he had woven questions of poetics, performance, media history, and digital approaches to listening and analysis into his syllabus.  As one of the early experimenters in teaching poetry through a major audio poetry archive (PennSound), and as a regular collaborator with Al Filreis, another innovator in this area who draws upon the audio archive in his wide-reaching ModPo MOOC, talking to Chris about teaching proved a unique opportunity to think about rationale, methods and effects of teaching poetry with sound.

In May, I reached out to Leah VanDyk shortly after she was awarded a Killam scholarship for her research in environmental humanities. Having met Leah before and heard her present at the “Text/Sound/Performance” conference in Dublin, Ireland in April 2019, I was excited to catch up with her and hear about her ongoing research. As I quickly found out, while her research focuses on environmental humanities, pedagogy, and accessibility, Leah is also often thinking about serendipitous moments activated through sound.

August 29, 2020

Margaret Atwood reading “Late August”

Emma Telaro

The audio clip for this Audio of the Week is introduced by SpokenWeb RA Emma Telaro. Read about what caught Emma's attention while she listened to a recording of a reading by Margaret Atwood that took place in a hot and crowded art gallery at Sir George Williams in Montreal on October 18, 1974. 

The transition wasn’t gradual; it happened over night. In March 2020, due to the global COVID19 pandemic, university classes and seminars, research meetings, supervisory chats, scholarly conferences, and more, all moved online. Suddenly the screen became the office, the boardroom, and the classroom. Suddenly the screen became the sole mediator of collective thinking, discussing, and sharing of information. While some might argue for the efficacy of this collective move online, Stephen J. Neville—who would have presented at the SpokenWeb Listening, Sound, Agency symposium this July—published early research on the flip side of online videoconferencing, discovering the racist and misogynist underpinning of many so-called Zoom-bombing attacks (co-authored with Prof. Greg Elmer and Anthony Glyn Burton). Here I ask him a few further questions about his latest, highly relevant research.

August 6, 2020

Tanya Davis performing “How to be Alone”

Ali Barillaro

I’ve been listening to recordings of The Words and Music Show for almost a year now. There are no shortages of standout performances in the collection, but every so often I’ll encounter something that catches me off guard with how much it resonates with the world around me in that moment of discovery.

As sound scholars, we can sometimes take for granted the existence of a sonic trace to blow open our research. However, if you’re working between sound and Black Studies like Dr. Kristin Moriah, Assistant Professor of English at Queen’s University, contending with sonic absence shapes—and often compels—the work. Kristin’s research examines Black performance and recording, spanning from Black feminist political mobilization against lynching in the United States to African-American performers in Berlin during the fin-de-siècle. We discussed the intrinsic relationship between Black activism and Black soundscapes via music, poetics, and oration, and its importance toward liberation during this pertinent contemporary moment.

Situated at the intersection of sound and literature, artist and scholar Dr. Eric Schmaltz exemplifies the flexible thinking proper to such an innovative, interdisciplinary field. Recently, I spoke with Dr. Schmaltz about his upcoming critical work— the radical potential of silence and of body in the formation of a poetics of the ‘unvoice’—and of the sounds, important, informing his recent research activities. Most meaningfully, our conversation speaks to the possibilities inflecting our ever-growing sound studies scape; the connected and vital work of confronting our literary histories.

Finding spaces and opportunities that enable you to make use of all of your skills and experiences in meaningful ways can be a challenge as you navigate academic studies. As such, it's always refreshing to speak with someone like Dr. Teresa Connors who has successfully brought together her artistic vision and creative practice and the world of data and research to create magnificent audiovisual installations.

I reached out to Junting Huang, a Ph.D candidate at Cornell University, in May. Amidst my own encounters with the shifting soundscapes of the pandemic quarantine, I was excited to hear more about his paper, exploring the soundscapes of political unrest in Taiwan. Our correspondence, over numerous emails and international borders, suggests that despite these often isolating circumstances, good conversation persists.

May 28, 2020

bill bissett on CKVU-TV September 1978

Mathieu Aubin

In this week’s Audio of the Week clip from PennSound, a partner affiliate of the SpokenWeb research network, we hear a televised reading of bill bissett chanting and reading from his then upcoming book Sailor (1978) on Vancouver’s CKVU-TV (now CityTV) show “The Vancouver Show” in early September 1978. By listening to the clip, you will gain an aural glimpse into bissett’s life following accusations of pornography against his work in the House of Commons.

Known for their seriality as well as their ability to provide people the freedom to vocalize their thoughts and to directly reach a public, podcasts have changed the way we listen to media since the beginning of the 21st century. While there is a plethora of podcasts available to listeners that are informed by diverse interests such as literature, sports, food, travel, and tabletop role-playing games, what happens when podcast production is deployed as a feminist practice?

May 19, 2020

Concordia – Manifesto Blog

Ali Barillaro

I’ve lived in Montreal my whole life, but, sadly, up until last year my experience of Canada beyond my home province consisted only of occasional trips to Ontario. When I found out that SpokenWeb was hosting the 2019 Symposium (Resonant Practices In Communities Of Sound) and the SpokenWeb Sound Institute in Vancouver – and that […]

In this Audio of the Week, you are listening to the voice of poet Gwendolyn MacEwen reading in Montreal on November 18, 1966. The reading took place at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) and it was a joint reading with Phyllis Webb. After an introduction by Roy Kiyooka (an excerpt of which is the first Audio of the Week) Webb reads, followed by MacEwen.

March 30, 2020

Margaret Avison reading “Thaw”

Katherine McLeod

This Audio of the Week features Margaret Avison reading “Thaw” on Friday January 27, 1967, at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia). “Thaw” is a poem that feels right for this spring day – when patches of snow are melting beside tulip buds sprouting up from the ground. But, this year, the arrival of spring feels bittersweet. At the time when we are usually released from the solitude of winter, we have been forced into self-isolation by the spread of the virus COVID-19. For now, we stay at home and stay apart.

A previous Audio of the Week featured one of Livesay’s most song-like poems “The Unquiet Bed” and this Audio of the Week features another musical poem by Livesay from that same reading in Montreal on January 14, 1971. The poem is “Bartok and the Geranium,” a poem that is often anthologized and, in fact, you may have studied it in a course on Canadian poetry. But do you know how Livesay wrote it? In this Audio of the Week, along with hearing the poem, you will hear Livesay telling her own story of how the poem began.

When listening to one recording from the SGW Poetry Series (1966-1974), it can be hard to hear its place amid the reading series as a whole. One can visualize its place on a list or on a calendar but it can be harder to sonically hear the seriality itself, except when someone on the recording, most often the host, refers to the previous or following reading. For this Audio of the Week, as we near the end of 2019, I have selected two clips from December readings in which there are announcements for the next readings in January.

On Monday, SpokenWeb Podcast released its 3rd episode: Invisible Labour. Our UBCO SpokenWeb team has been following the podcast series since the inaugural episode, the occasion for which we hosted a big listening party in the AMP Lab. However, our team was particularly stoked about episode #3. Why? Because we made it. Now, lest you think we just like […]

December 13, 2019

Daryl Hine reading “Point Grey”

Katherine McLeod

As I listened to December readings from various years in the SGW Poetry Series - to mark the end of this year, 2019 - I started exploring the reading by Daryl Hine. At first, I considered selecting his reading of the final poem, “The Trout,” but then I noticed something else: a note for one timestamp (00:42:19) indicating that Hine introduced and read “an unknown poem.” As I listened to his introduction, I realized that he was preparing the audience for the now-famous poem “Point Grey,” which, at the time of this reading, was not published. In fact, the introducer of Hine at the start of the reading mentioned that Minutes, the collection that contained “Point Grey,” would be published in 1968.

November 28, 2019

Daphne Marlatt reading “Lagoon”

Katherine McLeod

Daphne Marlatt starts her reading with poems from Vancouver Poems (1972), a deeply local collection that she had not yet published when this reading took place at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) in Montreal. She tells the audience that she will explain the local references as she goes along, starting with the first poem that refers to Lost Lagoon in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. What Marlatt could not have anticipated is that the poems would become pathways to revisit the city when republishing many of them years later in Liquidities: Vancouver Poems Then and Now (2013).

October 24, 2019

Kaie Kellough – The Words & Music Show

Katherine McLeod

As the first Audio of the Week to be selected from The Words & Music Show collection, this clip features poet Kaie Kellough. Kellough’s voice has been recorded many times throughout the past twenty years of Montreal’s Words & Music Show, a monthly cabaret of spoken word, poetry, music, and dance, established and organized by poet and musician Ian Ferrier. The recordings of these shows have now been digitized and catalogued by SpokenWeb researchers at Concordia University. During the digitization process, student research assistant Ali Barillaro noticed that this performance by Kellough stood out from the rest. As Kellough starts to introduce his reading, a pre-recorded voice slowly mixes with his live words. Where, then, does the introduction end, and where does the reading begin?

October 12, 2019

Earle Birney asks George Bowering for a glass of water

Katherine McLeod

After reading for about eleven minutes, Earle Birney pauses to ask if there is any water to drink. There is a glass and a pitcher (audibly present) but nearly empty, and thus the evening’s host George Bowering heads out into the hallway to find Birney a cold beverage. This interlude of extra-poetic speech reveals that, despite it being mid-February, the room temperature feels more like summer and, more importantly, the humourous nature of the extra-poetic speech attunes the listener to the sociality as well as to the poetry.

October 3, 2019

Dorothy Livesay reading “The Unquiet Bed”

Katherine McLeod

Dorothy Livesay’s poem “The Unquiet Bed” has appeared on the pages of many Canadian poetry anthologies, but what cannot be heard fully on the page is the sound of this poem as a ballad. It is an “unquiet” poem. The refrain – “The woman I am / is not what you see” – suggests that both the speaker and the poem are not what you see, though perhaps they are what you hear.

September 26, 2019

Muriel Rukesyer, reading “Anemone”

Katherine McLeod

During her introductory remarks (featured in last week’s Audio of the Week), poet Muriel Rukeyser asks the audience not only to raise their hands if they’ve ever written a poem but also to reflect upon what drives people to attend poetry readings in the first place. She speculates that people come and listen to poems because of embodied elements – the breathing, the heartbeat, the rhythms – and because of something else that is created while sharing a poem together. In her reading, there are poems in which one is acutely aware of being together, listening, even while listening to the recording. This poem is one of them: “Anemone” (The Speed of Darkness, 1968) – a poem that enacts Rukeyser’s opening remarks by making the room at once oceanic and intimate, and by saying to the listener: “You are here.”

September 19, 2019

Muriel Rukeyser, introductory remarks

Katherine McLeod

In her opening remarks, poet Muriel Rukeyser asks her audience to raise their hands if they have ever written a poem. We hear a murmur and bits of laughter and, presumably, hands are raised. She thanks them, explaining that she has begun asking every audience this question and that “there's always the moment of silence, and looking around first, and generally, quite slowly, almost all the hands go up.” Before reading a single poem, she manages to create a community of listeners and of poets. As Jane Malcolm has argued, if Rukeyser’s goal is “to occupy the room with poetry,” then, even without knowing how many raised their hands, “we are now listening to a collective, to one mere poet in a room of poets.” We start to hear the room as collectively invested in the questions of what a poetry reading is and why poetry readings as live events are worth seeking out – questions that we may also ask ourselves while seeking out and listening to these recordings today.

After reading for about 45 minutes, BC poet Maxine Gadd invites host Richard Sommer to improvise on her flute to the poem “Shore Animals.” Starting with the negotiation between Gadd and Sommer about what to read and how to perform together, a process that constitutes its own audible improvisation, this clip includes the first two minutes of a six-minute improvisation, which ends with a crescendo into a raucous shout. Their improvisation is a singular moment when an audience member formally performs in the SGW Poetry Series. Though, at the same time, this recording reminds listeners that the audience is always present – ready to improvise, interject, and even interrupt – and that the audience is also what we are listening to as archival listeners.

The last Audio of the Week featured Roy Kiyooka introducing Phyllis Webb and explaining what the SGW (Sir George Williams) Poetry Series attempted to achieve through its programming of Canadian and American poets from 1966-1974. In this week’s audio clip, Atwood first explains the illness haunting her voice and then starts her reading with the ghostly poem, “This is a Photograph of Me,” also the first poem in The Circle Game (1966). Despite its matter-of-fact title, this poem presents not a clear picture but rather a blurred trace of a haunted voice: “The photograph was taken / the day after I drowned.” Before her rise to celebrity (evident when Atwood reads again at SWGU in 1974), here is Atwood in 1967, at the start of her career, telling the reader and listener that this photograph-as-poem is a representation of me. But who is speaking? Listen closely, and “eventually / you will be able to see me.”

May 28, 2019

Roy Kiyooka introducing Phyllis Webb

Jason Camlot

Between 1966 and 1974, faculty members of Sir George Williams University (SGWU, now Concordia University) in Montreal hosted a series of poetry readings that was conceived as an ongoing encounter between local poets and a diverse range of writers from across the United States and Canada. In one of the first recorded readings in this series (a reading featuring Canadian poets Phyllis Webb and Gwendolyn MacEwen held in November 1966), organizing committee member Roy Kiyooka explained the initial rationale of the series program. In this audio clip, Kiyooka explains the reading series as an attempt to sound the diversity of North American poetry in the mid 1960s.

February 28, 2019

DEEP CURATION: A NEW, DIALOGIC POETRY READING

Klara du Plessis

So begins the Deep Curation Poetry Reading of Saturday, 24 November 2018, at the Mile End Poets’ Festival, in Montreal’s Café Resonance, curated by myself with the support of Concordia University’s SpokenWeb research initiative, and including readings by poets Canisia Lubrin, Erin Robinsong, Aaron Boothby, and again myself, Klara du Plessis.