Vowels and Music – (Poundian Poetics)

continuing with Allen’s commentary in his 1980 Basic Poetics Naropa class on Ezra Pound’s Manifest”

AG: I was talking about it [about “melodic coherence” and Hart Crane’s “Atlantis”].  There’s partly some element of cadence – da da da da-da da da da –da – “O Thou steeled Cognizance whose leap commits” – that’s the rhythmic cadence.   So melodic cadence of those vowels – “encintured sing/ In single chrysalis” – “encintured sing/ In single chrysalis” – that’s melodic coherence – That make sense? Mel-o-dy? tune-al coherence

And “of the tone-leading of the vowels” -. “tone-leading of the vowels”  (Pound)  The tones are pitches – whether the vowels go up and down on the scale – “O Thou steeled Cognizance” – da da da da –   “O Thou steeled Cognizance” – or  “O Thou steeled Cognizance – or some sense of the musicality of it. The leading… the pitch or tone.. The pitch of the vowels leading up or down, depending on your emphasis – “O Thou steeled Cognizance” (is the way I like it  -“O Thou steeled Cognizance” – not like pom-pom-pom-baa! – “O Thou steeled Cognizance” – pom-pom-pom- badda-da! –  “O Thou steeled Cognizance”). So there is a  “tone-leading of the vowels” – That make sense? Tone/pitch (higher of lower), Vowels (what is carrying the pitch), and, one leading to another, one leading to another. Yes?

Student: I’ve got to assume that there’s some sort of accepted pitch for a vowel, of some sort, that..

AG: No, but how do you know what’s the pitch then?

Student: But if you’re going to write…..

AG: Let us say.. Not “accepted”,  let’s use his word “approximate”. Does that assume that there would be some kind of approximate pitch?  – ok –  could we put it that way?

Student: Yeah

AG: Yeah, I think so. but how would you discover it? because Each vowel would have a different pitch or.. with its context.

Student: A different word

AG _ Each vowel or word – a different context. You could say, “Cognizance”  (“What a Cognizance!” [delight] or “What a Cognizance”, [disappointment] (so it depends what your context is in your sentence and what the tone of the speech is you’re making . But, youo set a series of words in seqience like that – “O Thou steeled Cognizance” – and you try and figure out what that means, (you’ve got to be figuring it out by common sense) there aren’t too many ways you can pronounce it  – or, let us say, one’s intelligence would lead one to pronounce it in an approximately measured way of da da da da-da. You might go “O Thou steeled Cognizance” , but it’s more likely a more  enthusiastic ascent –   “O Thou steeled Cognizance! ” (because he’s talking about the (Brooklyn) bridge,anyway – da-da-da-da. So “O Thou steeled da da da” . So I would say you would approximate it by figuring out what it means, pronouncing it if it had some sense, and where you would put your. stresses (stresses, emphasis), it would be a higher pitch (I think I mentioned that before – where there’s extra stress, there’s higher pitch or tone). Are you following?  So if  you say “O”, it’s “Oh”,  but if you say “O!” (with an extra stress) then it’s higher – “Oh?”  – So, stress, or the amount of air coming out of your lungs  to make the sound  (which is stress, actually) – “Oh!” instead of “O” – “O” tends to lift it, make it higher, and so, as the line signifies or means, as you mean to say the line,  it’ll go up or down.  “As you mean to say the line” – da-da-da da-da  da-da… da da-da – “it’ll go up or down”. Obvious. in other words, pronouncing it as if it made sense will lead you to approximate the tone-leading of the vowels”. Now that makes sense? – Pronouncing a phrase as if it makes sense will lead to some coherent approximation of whether the vowels go up or down, up or down.

Student: It’s funny, though, how you said before that the vowel goes down.

AG: Okay, so it could change. It could change. Just so long as it has some coherence (and it will have coherence as long as the line means something to you (“O Thou steeled Cognizance”).  (And) if you’re just repeating it, not knowing what the words are, you know, just struggling through to get the words out of your mouth, without any realization of what it means, then there’ll be a flat dead monotone (as you’ve heard people read in class, you know, just trying to get through, remember the line, get the words right in their eyeballs, much less give some spirit into them, breath into them). Yeah,it could vary. So I would think.. It’s just like “To be or not to be (Shakespeare big Hamlet soliloquy). Twenty-five actors will give you twenty-five different renditions, right? – Twenty-five people reading Hart Crane will give you twenty-five renditions (and maybe he’ll give you six different renditions, himself, if he reads it six different days! )- I read “Howl different every time. I try and make it different every time. I try and make different music out of it. And if someone is playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto, that’ll be slightly different too,that’s what great about a concert pianist, it’s like a new organic thing that he does – he goes into the Beethoven or the Rachmaninoff and it’s his interpretation. So you’ve got to have an interpretation every time. So what he (Ezra Pound)’s requesting for your interpretation is that you understand what’s being said, then, there’ll be some awareness of the “melodic coherence” and “the tone leading of the vowels” whichever way it goes up or down – just that it be filled with some kind of intelligent spirit rather than flat, dead, rather than flat dead monotone. In other words, what we’re talking about is..  We’re talking about the stuff that’s meant for (talking) aloud, for speaking aloud.

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twelve-and-a-quarter. minutes in and concluding at approximately eighteen-and-three-quarter minutes in

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