Yordanos Goshu, “Poetry in Motion”

Poetry in Motion aims to emphasize slam poetry as a form of poetry whose performance conveys its meaning. Given the performance I then create an acoustic soundscape that is indicative of the emotions, tones, and storyline of the poem. By doing this, I create an even further investigation into the sounds of the performance that enable me to study the cultural, traditional, and historical meaning of the sounds of the performance. I have two main goals with this project. The first goal is to see whether I can recreate the semantic understanding of sound by studying the physiological sounds of the performance. This entails whether I can find sounds that are natural to all humans and create a medium for the transfer of information. These sounds would include crying, screaming, laughter, shortness of breath, etc. The second goal is to see whether I can capture the culture, tradition, and heritage associated with a certain sound. This entails being able to relate sounds that are unique to a group of people and seeing if these sounds have integrated themselves into structures of the culture that are indicative of the people’s speech, instruments, religion, etc.

Poetry in Motion is my attempt in creating a project to achieve these two goals. Before I go into detail about the piece I want to introduce the unique sounds of Amharic, which is the main dialect of the Ethiopian language. Ge’ez, the ancient language of the Aksumite empire, is used today only for religious writings and worship in the Ethiopian Orthodox church. The ancient Ge’ez language is the ancestor of the modern Amharic language of Ethiopia. The oldest known inscription in Ge’ez dates from the 3rd or 4th century. The Bible was translated into Ge’ez between the 5th and 7th centuries. The period of classical Ge’ez literature was between the 13th and 17th centuries. Although Ge’ez ceased to be spoken popularly sometime between 900 and 1200, it continues as a liturgical language.

Amharic is written in a slightly modified form of the alphabet used for writing the Ge’ez language. There are 33 basic characters, each of which has seven forms depending on which vowel it is to be pronounced in the syllable. These seven forms create a structure of the language make the sound of Amharic very unique. The language has been strongly influenced by the Cushitic languages, especially Oromo. Ethiopia is the only non-colonized country in Africa which explains why the Ethiopic alphabet is Africa’s oldest alphabet and lots of its sound and culture have held for thousands of years. Interestingly, the sounds of the language have carried over to the instruments. Some of these instruments include the Masenqo, Begena, Washint, and Krar. The instruments have been crafted to be harmonious with the language to fit church hymns, music, etc.

In order to see whether I can achieve the two goals above, I have created Poetry in Motion. The project began when I wrote about family traditions in Ethiopian. The poem was written to be performed (aka slam poetry). I then attempt to see whether I can express to audiences facts about Ethiopia through this performance. However, instead of this transfer of information being semantic, I want audiences to utilize a reduced form of listening. To achieve this reduced form of listening, I had to find sounds natural to all humans. In addition, these sounds have to be indicative of Ethiopia. That is why I tried to flesh out the the seven common forms of the amharic language and instruments that are unique in Ethiopia through the performance of my poem. What I am attempting to do is use my poem to imitate the Ethiopian language which will in turn imitate Ethiopian instruments which will provide a median for telling a story about Ethiopian culture and traditions.

In order to create this chain of imitation I first place a contact mic on my chest and record myself performing the poem. The natural sounds of my heartbeat and the air passing through my lungs provided a medium to translate my poem to a reduced listening platform so that anyone would be able to relate to it. Then in order to integrate sounds indicative of Ethiopia, I recorded myself saying the seven unique sounds that make up most of the Ethiopian language. I then split up those sounds and create an impulse response from each of the sounds. I then created a reverb through my performance using the seven unique sounds as the impulse responses. I then adjusted the playback so that it imitates the sounds that come from instruments common to Ethiopian Instruments.

I use the natural sounds produced by all humans (breathing and heart beat) and the sounds of the Ethiopian language to be able to convey a message about the culture embedded in the sounds indicative to Ethiopia. Thus this performance begins with the seven individual impulses played through my heartbeat. I then transitions to the seven individual impulses being combined to create one impulse response that is played through my performance. I then harmoniously transition to a liturgy from the Ethiopian Orthodox church. This transition is very natural because Amharic finds its origin from Ge’ez which is now strictly only used in the the church. I then harmoniously transition to an instrument mentioned above called the Begena. This transition verifies that the the language properly imitates the instruments.

Poetry in Motion found its inspiration from Tong Soon Lee and her article Technology and the Production of Islamic Space, in which she explains that the Islamic call to prayer in Singapore sparks people’s faith and prayers. This inspired me to think about how specific sounds are indicative to religions and traditions. I also found inspiration from the Auditory Markers of the Village, where Alain Corbin explains how different sounds serve multiple functions that trigger memory and help in the preservation of the community. This project also found inspiration in Theodore Levin’s Rivers and Mountains Sing, in order to understand that mimesis says a lot about the cultural context from which it originates. Finally, this project found inspiration from Luciano Berio’s, Visage. Berio’s buildup of the foundations of language in Visage were interesting and led to the structure that it has now.

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