Last night at the Chorus: A Literary Mixtape spoken word tour, Saul Williams invited all the local poets in the audience up on stage to share. Saul shared that the inspiration for the book came from the Greek theater chorus who according to Wikipedia “comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action.” He was also inspired by many poets and bards in his travels and wanted to “share the page, share the stage.“
There’s a singular voice that selected the weave through the hundred voices in the poetic remix (i.e. the book by same name) that’s achieved by the use of lighter fonts—but this post isn’t about book arts.
What I intend this blog and this course (to eventually be offered entirely Creative-Commons licensed) is to be about is using the Internet as an artistic medium in itself—rather than trying to get it to conform to other media standards. I’d also like to include storytellers, actors, dancers, musicians, calligraphers, sculptors, cartoonists, theater ensembles, videographers, urban game designers, urban planners, public art advocates, etcetera (it’s a long list) as I think they can bring to table many new ideas about how creators shape and use the Internet that broadens what the engineers and venture capitalists are conjuring up.
It’s using the Internet for art as art. Not solely as a promotional device for an art object elsewhere or a distribution medium for digital art. Even more interesting is if the two worlds—virtual and palpable meet and fuse.
I’d say that one thing that distinguishes the Internet is how easy can be to drop that fourth wall concept that we see so prevalent in print media, broadcast media, and most performing arts. I’m not saying so much the fourth wall is ‘bad’ or anything, but to allow this new art forms to flourish it helps to be aware of how the medium is innately designed. And the Internet isn’t one-way, although it can be forced that way.
What struck me most is that earlier yesterday, I’d just met a theater person who switched over to the Web design world. And, me, I’m eager to go toward the opposite trajectory: I welcome more of the visceral, artistic, palpable in my life. I’ve been intrigued by the intersection of theater and Internet offered by transmedia, alternate reality games, serious games, and urban games. And now here I was at a Saul Williams show with a stage, and here the rest of us were in the audience silent and rapt, fawning or whatever it is audiences do. Or so we thought.
After about twelve local poets read, Saul recited in his rapid-fire style for a little while. He paused for a drink of water, then took the mic and invited us to a jam session essentially: I’d like to drop “the fourth wall. We can have a dialogue.” Or I can just read poetry all night.
I’m not sure the audience was prepared for what he offered us.
jam session, noun 1. a meeting of a group of musicians, especially jazz musicians, to play for their own enjoyment. 2. an impromptu jazz performance or special performance byjazz musicians who do not regularly play together.
I don’t know the crowd, although I do know it was in San Francisco, $21 tickets, and advertised as a spoken word (a.k.a. poetry), so I could make some demographic assumptions, but I’m not sure that’s the point here. I don’t know if anyone anywhere growing up with one-way broadcast style media and the authoritative voice fares any better when suddenly presented with another model, another opportunity at first.
In music, a call and response is a succession of two distinct phrases usually played by different musicians, where the second phrase is heard as a direct commentary on or response to the first. It corresponds to the call-and-response pattern in human communication and is found as a basic element of musical form, such as verse-chorus form, in many traditions. - via Wikipedia
Some folks in the ‘audience’ (or was that ‘chorus’) asked questions that sound like requests and celebrity-awestruckness and not so much striking up a dialogue or jamming—“Could you do that poem ___.” or “Could you curse?” He usually shot back (graciously though), like a true artist, with: “Is that a request? I only do what I feel like doing.”
I’m not sure the majority are yet open to invitations to call-and-response, feedback-styled engagement, transactive mediums, participatory art or just plain dialogue but that’ what entices me.
Mull over the concepts of chorus, dialogue, fourth wall, jam sessions, call-and-response in order to get the most out of where this ride (a.k.a. this blog) and future attractions are headed.
As for me last night, I was just shy. Or one can consider this a response.
Photo Credits: Saul Williams Chorus poetry tour taken by Oddreydrey; Aka Pygmy Call-and-Response Choir