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Writing through Culture and Art

ENGL 165.301

"Everyone, absolutely everyone, was tape-recording everyone else. Machinery had already taken over people's sex lives--dildos and all kinds of vibrators--and now it was taking over their social lives, too, with tape recorders and Polaroids. The running joke between Brigid and me was that all our phone calls started with whoever'd been called by the other saying, "Hello, wait a minute," and running to plug in and hook up. I'd provoke any kind of hysteria I could think of on the phone just to get myself a good tape. Since I wasn't going out much and was home a lot on the mornings and evenings, I put in a lot of time on the phone gossiping and making trouble and getting ideas from people and trying to figure out what was happening--and taping it all." -- Andy Warhol

From Andy Warhol's diaristic tape recordings documenting his life to Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 mystery thriller about audio surveillance, The Conversation, audio archiving and its subsequent manipulations have left an enormous legacy across the arts. Beginning with ethereal radio transmissions in the late nineteenth century and increasing after World War II with the widespread use of home tape-recorders, artists began incorporating the sounds of language and everyday life into their works and using them as the basis for their art works. Today, with digital technology, these impulses to record, archive and manipulate sound have only increased, as have their distribution networks: thanks to file-sharing and laptop-based software, audio works are now able to be instantly disseminated on a global scale.

We'll be listening to and exploring the depths of the manipulated voice beginning with 78 RPM recordings of séances through the more recent spate of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) -- spirits conducted by radio waves -- researchers: Raymond Cass and Dr. Konstanin Raudive. From there, it's a short leap to the Musique concrète composers of the 1950s, who used the human voice as the basis for many of their electronic compositions, which inspired everyone from The Beatles and John Oswald's Plunderphonics to mash-up artists such as Danger Mouse. We'll dip into theatre and explore the uses of the recorded voice in the works of Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape and Jean Cocteau's telephone-driven La Voix Humaine. In literature, we'll read the speech-driven works of Ezra Pound (as well as his notorious WWII pro-Axis shortwave radio broadcasts) and Frank O'Hara's everyday-language based poems; moving forward we'll read and listen to David Antin's tape-recorded transcribed "talk poems." The visual arts are chock-full of audio manipulations, including Richard Serra's time-delayed 70s videotape "Boomerang" and Michael Snow's radio manipulations "Short Wavelength." And digital technology has inspired younger practitioners to extend this tradition as in Kalup Linzy's satirical narratives inspired by television soap operas, telenovelas and Hollywood melodramas; or the young Philadelphia-based video artist Ryan Trecartin, who merges sophisticated digital manipulations with footage from the Internet and pop culture, animations, and wildly stylized sets and performances.

This year-long creative writing class, given as a collaboration of CPCW and the ICA, will use the above works as a basis to inspire a wide variety of written, spoken, and recorded works by participating students. Students will be encouraged to develop correspondent methods of responding to the ICA's exhibitions, specifically in conjunction with an exhibition which explores the manipulated voice in recordings and soundworks. The class will involve monthly trips to New York City to attend concerts, museums and lectures. The students will have access to the most cutting-edge artists today via class visits and studio visits. English 165 will culminate in a publication co-sponsored by the ICA and CPCW.

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