The history of sound poetry reflects many different energies, origins and individual or collective kinds of "movements". Following Dadaist and Futurist experiments, as groups such as the Lettristes and individuals such as Henri Chopin, Bob Cobbing, Paul de Vree, François Dufrêne, Brion Gysin, Sten Hanson, Bernard Heidsieck and Ernst Jandl pushed language towards abstraction, sound poetry first appeared to be a predominantly European movement, documented initially on the records of Henri Chopin's review OU and the records of the Fylkingen Text-Sound Festivals. Still more international experimentation followed. The S-Press tapes documented both German-language poets and Americans such as John Cage; Klaus Schöning's WDR Hörspiele series broadcast works by a wide range of American and European contributors, John Giorno's Dial-a-Poem records documented many the New York performance poets and intermedia artists, and Arch Records, Lovely Music and a number of tape anthologies published the work of a younger generation of high-tech poets and composers such as Charles Amirkhanian, Robert Ashley and Larry Wendt. Enzo Minarelli adds yet another chapter to this history. Assembling work by American, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Yugoslavian poets, the international sensibility of his first LP anthology Voooxing Poooêtre (1982) and his 3ViTre "polypoetry" records (1983-86) anticipated the way in which his 3ViTrePAIR Lps subsequently juxtaposed such different national avant-gardes as "ITALIA-CANADA" (1987), "SPAGNA-MESSICO-ITALIA" (1988), "CALIFORNIA-ITALIA"(1990), "UNGHERIA-ITALIA" (1992).
Bringing poets together on tape, Minarelli's still more international
Baobab tape anthologies subsequently published the first European
anthologies of recordings by the Australian, Brazilian and other "new
world" avant-gardes. And bringing poets together on stage in Bologna,
Minarelli's Poesia Sonora Festivals have assembled participants from all
around the world (in 1998, for example, from Brazil, Denmark, England,
France, Greece, Holland, the Slovak Republic, Poland, Sweden, Germany,
Spain and Switzerland).
A fin de siècle Marco Polo, fascinated by the different ways in which
late twentieth cultural practices disrupt the word and re-animate the
primal, popular, poetic and prosaic energies of the word in new kinds of
live and multimediated performance, Minarelli tends to work with one
foot in on the terrain that Paul Zumthor associates with
the genesis of words and sentences, and the other foot dancing
in more abstract sonic space.
Certainly, he is not an astronaut of sonic abstraction. But within verbal-vocal and semantic-sonic space there is room for all kinds of poetic momentum and for all kinds of poetic investigation, ranging from the supersonic orbits of Henri Chopinís audiopoésie, and the semi-narrative and semi-semantic propulsion of Bernard Heidsieckís utterance, to more popular flights of poetic improvisation.
As Minarelli's videopoem Volto Pagina (1985) indicates, his research culminates in performances or compositions in which almost all elements are allowed to transmute into abstraction, apart from the word. Here, even when surrounded by vocalic and sonic echo and fragmentation, the word constantly remains present as a coherent ligne de base or point de départ. Floating in extra-verbal space, interacting with sub-verbal or extraverbal visual materials, but never wholly drifting into sub-semantic abstraction, the words in such "videopoesia sonora" contribute to a kind of disembodied techno-performance based upon the written word, punctuated and animated by the rhythms of the spoken voice, and accompanied and amplified by the audio-visual rhythms of multi-collaged sound and image.
Recordings of Minarelli's live performances at the 1996 Berlin Bobeobi Festival - which also appears on his video anthology, Videogrammi (1998) - document the way in which his work has evolved from the abruptly permutated and collaged semantic and sonic fragments of poems such as "Monostico", to the stillmore powerful - and still more fluid and more humourous - register of works like "Con Sonanti", in which Minarelli perfects James Brown-like improvisations of musically amplified inter-phonemes, grunts and abstractions, in a kind of rock-poetic monologue echoing and incorporating the patterns of language, song and instrumental melody. "Poema" similarly escalates into a confident, multi-echoed rock-rhapsody combining something of the register of the early poems of the The Last Poets, and of Henri Chopin's "Le Temps Aujourd'hui".
Exemplifying what is surely Minarelli's most individual and accomplished
work, the vocal energy of this kind of free-theatrical improvisation
breaks through the barriers of spoken language and national
pronunciation, and flows forward with considerable power, "surfing" its
musical waves with perhaps even greater impact than his more disjointed
declamation with flute accompaniment in "Nordsud&Sudnord".
If much of Minarelli's work explores the intersections between words and
the extra-semantic atoms of sounds and music, offering what one might
think of as "cubist" intersections and breakages as words and what
decomposing-recomposing syllables fight for survival
against abstraction, Minarelli's most powerful recent research refines
more melodic fusions between language, music and sound in a veritable
"polypoetry" reclaiming the popular discourses of rock and rap for the
Here, in a curious kind of disco-dada in which word, sound, music, gesture and background projections all fall effortlessely into place, Minarelli enters a realm of performance in which he is entirely at ease and completely compelling.
Some may find "Con Sonanti" and "Poema" alarmingly close to rock improvisation, but it is in poems such as these, I think, that Minarelli's performative virtuosity manifests its most striking theatrical and poetic energy, humour, maturity and authority, as the diffirent vocal modulations of his earlier work find their own distinctive voice and momentum.
What will come next? We will have to wait and see.
Nicholas Zurbrugg - De Montfort University Leicester