Posts tagged ‘reviews’

22 April 2013

Craig Dworkin on En Abîme

I first became aware of Craig Dworkin’s work through his book Reading the Illegible (2003) and his contribution to Information as Material. A poet, critic, editor, and professor in the Department of English at the University of Utah, Craig is also the author of No Medium (2013) and editor, with Kenneth Goldsmith, of Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (2011). He runs Eclipse, an online archive of radical small-press writing.
Here are Craig’s words around En abîme, at once a response and an echo to my book:

Daniela Cascella’s En Abîme both describes and enacts the dynamic between writing and sound that gets put into play whenever we write about the auditory or sound out the phonetic limits of writing. Her soi-disant “archival fiction” thematizes the writing of sound in scenes where phonographs serve as mnemonic triggers or are deployed as answers in an interview, but the archival sense of “records” also plays throughout. Moreover, in its investigation of the dynamic between writing and sound, Cascella’s work makes a compelling argument for rethinking the metaphors by which we understand both reading and listening: moving from surface and depth to horizon and edge to entanglements and knots. Picking up on Herman Melville’s description of his unsuccessful book Pierre as a “shallow nothing of a novel,” Cascella patiently demonstrates that the depth-model of value (“shallow”) and the ontology of “nothing” (as John Cage had proved for “silence”) are far from certain and stable. Indeed, with its five blind-printed pages, her own second-hand copy of Melville’s novel reanimates the metaphors of ghostly haunting and diminished echoing that echo and haunt her text in turn. A visual version of an echo, “en abîme” names the recursive relationships that animate the formal structure of the eponymous fiction, but the abyss is also a formation where echoes emanate — the space required for resonance, the cry of the voice de profundis. Like Robert Walser’s poetry, Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, and Gert Jonke’s novels (such as Der Ferne Klang and Erwachen zum großen Schlafkrieg), En Abîme conducts philosophy by other — narrative and aural — means. Cascella is a phonographer of the mind, and her work repays the replay of repeated auditioning.

5 April 2013

En Abîme / Ethnomusicology Review

I have just come across this review of En Abîme. It was written by Lola San Martín Arbide for the Ethnomusicology Review and it is the first one that deliberately addresses the notion of writing in a foreign language, and a certain way of approaching ‘research’.

You can read the review here.

3 April 2013

In Search of a Concrete Music / review

I have reviewed In Search of a Concrete Music by Pierre Schaeffer for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
You can read the review here.

9 November 2012

En Abîme: The Wire review by Agata Pyzik

Agata Pyzik wrote a detailed and insightful review of En Abîme in the December issue of The Wire (#346).

“Mise en abyme means placed into the abyss. In art theory, it refers to an image containing a smaller copy of itself; in postmodern literary theory it becomes a tool for analysing complicated texts that contain a number of subtexts. To be thrown into the abyss could also be a description of what happens when we listen to music, especially that which contains unfamiliar, non-musical sounds. Here, it’s a writing device, allowing Daniela Cascella, who is Italian, to use English as a Verfremdungseffekt, or distancing effect, which reflects the polyphonic nature of memory and indeed the multiple texts of the mise en abyme. Among the stories she tells is one of a real abyss, recounting how Nero’s villa, Domus Aurea, was rediscovered in the 15th century by a boy who had accidentally fallen into a hole that led to the ruin. Such vivid, bodily experiences recur throughout En Abîme.

African-American poet Audre Lorde coined the term biomythography; here, Cascella complicates the genre of memoir by referring to an “archival fiction”. Her book is a personal meditation on her life, giving the impression of someone trying to pick up the pieces and put them together in a meaningful way. As a music writer and art historian, she has travelled widely to her objects of passion, curiosity or fascination, and the book oscillates between several geographical spaces, which in turn evoke metaphorical spaces. One is a Protestant cemetery near the Spanish Steps in Rome, where Gramsci, Keats and Shelley are buried. Another is New York, where Cascella researched a dissertation on the interdisciplinary avant garde magazine Possibilities, edited by William Baziotes with John Cage and Robert Motherwell. In New York she befriends Baziotes’s widow, Ethel. And in Berlin, she meets Mika Vainio, who, instead of giving her a straightforward interview, plays records to her.

Rome, a place of pilgrimage for many poets, writers and artists, is a city that åprovokes memories for Cascella. One of these is of listening to Bella Ciao, a compilation of workers’ and partisans’ songs, with her brother. The compilation is named after a famous song sung by the anti-fascist resistance movement in Italy and later covered by punk groups. In 1964, at the Spoleto festival, Giovanna Marini, a friend of communist film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, sang this song to a scandalised public who were not keen to be reminded of the past. But Cascella is haunted by the past because she wants to understand it, and she draws upon the experiences of other visitors to Rome – Herman Melville, Rainer Maria Rilke and Italian poet Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose work uses various dialects and languages – to help her to put together her own existence. A novel by Melville, Pierre: Or, The Ambiguities (later filmed by Leos Carax as Pola X, with a soundtrack by Scott Walker), where a prospective author writes two versions of a book – one for the reader and one only for himself – is the basis for a chapter of direct self-commentary on the author’s own reading and writing.

Somehow this cascade of disrupted impressions makes sense. I felt at times as if the voice of the late Chris Marker was speaking to me – Cascella has a similar aphoristic style that recalls Sans Soleil’s meditations on memory. She never neglects the political aspect of her stories, all of which are painfully immersed in history, like the song “Bella Ciao” – the book’s real heart, and its musical leitmotif. En Abîme is, like Marker’s films, a road book, and as in his creations, there is at the end an elusive but firm sense that our world has transformed a little.”

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30 August 2012

another clue for a beginning / capriccio

16 May 2012

Listening to Noise and Silence / review

The Journal of Sonic Studies, vol. 2, features my review of Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art (Continuum, 2010) by Salomé Voegelin:

I would like to focus my attention on what has been left, in previous reviews of Listening to Noise and Silence, in the margins: the writing voice of Salomé Voegelin. I would like to consider this writing voice as the embodiment of Voegelin’s philosophy of sound – not a separate element, but one ingrained in her modus operandi. By doing so, I would like to support and expand on Voegelin’s claim for a renewed approach to listening, one that necessarily affects the approach to writing: ‘A philosophy of sound art must remain a strategy of listening rather than an instruction to hear, and thus its language itself is under scrutiny’ (Voegelin, xiv). I would like to look at what happens if the activity of writing is considered parallel to the activity of listening, defined by Voegelin as ‘the invention of sound’ – where writing appears as yet another layer in such an invention. … [read more]

5 May 2012

John Wynne, Installation no. 2 for High and Low Frequencies / review

On entering the large space taken up by John Wynne’s new installation, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer physical impact of low frequencies as they make the windows rattle and the floor tremble, and by the elusiveness of high frequencies that flutter around the ears and intermittently create an odd sense of aural déjà vu … [read more]

13 October 2011

audio obscura / review

[To experience Audio Obscura, a new work by Lavinia Greenlaw at St. Pancras railway station in London, you are given a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and you are left free to wander for about thirty minutes, listening to an audio piece of fragmented voices against a backdrop of ambient noises].

‘Listen. The heart of it’ –

the first sentence I hear, in these recordings between speech and thought, pushes me out of my hearing. Soon I find my mind is cancelling the words – or at least my detailed following of them. I begin perceiving myself outside of the words in the headphones, and playing with my sense of being in a specific place instead.

I feel watched. As much as I might believe I’m wandering anonymously, the headphones are too big and too black to escape attention. Overtly conscious of the stage I’m unwittingly made to be an extra in, I look for fellow listeners. I spend ten minutes trying to make eye contact and study their reactions. One of them is sitting musing. One looks like he doesn’t want me to be aware he’s part of this. And as I see one on the escalator, going down as I go up, she smiles then turns her eyes. Monadic we walk undirected.

‘I want to tell someone that I saw a wonderful thing’.

I decide to stop after ten minutes of over-conscious wandering, because one issue that I’m finding hard to tackle is this open space; this deliberate sense of drift. Only when I stop questioning my movements, only when I abandon any pretense of mimesis and begin to think metaphorically, I realise how Audio Obscura has placed me right in that boundless space on which you skip after you’ve found the start of a compelling idea, after you’ve encountered a half-formed captivating thought: that hovering space that absorbs you as you start to make something. A space layered, time after time.

I sit on a bench. I watch St-Pancras-the-palimpsest as it flakes today in front of my eyes, ears and recollections. Once it was early autumn, the breeze freezing and the sense of this architecture of arrivals and departures amplifed. It was 2009 and I was taking part in a sound walk led by Hildegard Westerkamp. The frame of the work then was not given by sounds and words, but by a spatial trajectory – from Euston Road to Regent’s Park by means of detours in back streets and railway stations. Listening then turned me inside out, a resonant membrane for what was around, dizzying, disordered.
______The given trajectory across places enhanced my sense of listening to a soundscape around.

I indulge in St-Pancras-the-palimpsest as Greenlaw’s vocal palimpsest unfolds and draws me in. At its most fragmented and loose it creates spaces for echoes and questioning.
______The given texture of words takes me outside of words, enhances hesitancy.

I do not know these people and their voices, I can’t relate to them as people – they all become figures, signs, masks, vectors.

The voice of an old man, ‘I feel things falling through… I can feel each breath out of my body. The blood that’s so heavy goes so light’.

 ‘I suppose I was the maze’.

‘Listen. The heart of it.’
I wouldn’t call Audio Obscura an exercise in eavesdropping: the tension here is not much on intruding on other people’s fragmented voices and fragmentary stories. The tension of this piece is in bringing those sounds and those fragmented stories back inside the mutating landscape of my understanding, let them hint at my presence here, today.

Audio Obscura is not concerned with sound or listening as such. It builds singular experiences of being – and listening here is a gateway. It points to and expands what cannot be heard, what cannot be said. ‘Dark listening’, Greenlaw calls it. It covets the other side of listening, which could be called making, writing.

By using sound as a medium and as a space, Greenlaw has created a beguiling piece on the process of writing. ‘Listen. The heart of it’, those first words I heard evoke Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Voices, Voices… Listen, my heart’ in the First Duino Elegy – that moment when the poet’s voice breaks to stop and listen to the ‘stream of uninterrupted news that comes from silence’, lingers in that polyphonic hesitancy, then writes it into a poem nonetheless.

Greenlaw too is a poet, her Audio Obscura exists in the wavering space of creating or finding a poem: ‘the point at which we start to make sense of things’, she says. In the unspoken dark space of listening, when sounds before words generate riddles, in those spots that draw us in although we can’t embrace them, like the essential night embracing Maurice Blanchot’s Orpheus before his song takes shape. Audio Obscura is not a sound piece: it is where each poem begins.

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