“After the Noise”: A Music/Poetry Collaboration

As if writing and photography weren’t enough creative pursuits to consume a person, I also play music. Not terribly well, since I rarely have time to practice these days, but it’s still a strong frequency in my spirit. Thus when a music artist on Mastodon sought voice segments for a project, I responded. Recording a whole audiobook had left me confident speaking into the mic.

Less so writing the poetry.

A paper rose made from ivory paper printed with dark text.

After initial consultations with the artist, we agreed that I would write a “found” poem. Rather than the typical approach of re-ordering excerpts, I decided to craft free verse through redaction, extracting select words in their original order. (Awkward admission: I encountered this concept on a wine bottle label last year and have wanted to experiment with it ever since.) But what text to use? The original music track featured tone shifts and bends that evoked mutation, so I chose an open-source translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, available through the University of Virginia’s digital library. Having studied this work as inspiration for a previous unpublished project, I knew it contained a lot of interesting material. I highlighted words that caught my attention and let logic emerge organically:

I want to speak about bodies changed into new forms. You, gods, since you are the ones who alter these, and all other things, inspire my attempt, and spin out a continuous thread of words, from the world’s first origins to my own time. Before there was earth or sea or the sky that covers everything, Nature appeared the same throughout the whole world: what we call chaos: a raw confused mass, nothing but inert matter, badly combined discordant atoms of things, confused in the one place. There was no Titan yet, shining his light on the world, or waxing Phoebe renewing her white horns, or the earth hovering in surrounding air balanced by her own weight, or watery Amphitrite stretching out her arms along the vast shores of the world. Though there was land and sea and air, it was unstable land, unswimmable water, air needing light. Nothing retained its shape…

Chiseling down the language revealed traces of a very different metamorphosis: how human behaviors reshaped Planet Earth, and now our civilization must change to adapt. Environmentalist implications unfurled like a fiddlehead fern. The final piece read like a eulogy for humanity:

To you who alter the earth, nature appeared raw, discordant atoms along vast shores of nothing. Disentangled elements freed in fire make home the last space enclosed when the gathered waves swallow coastlines in water’s thunder. Human beings create and possess indiscriminately, tearing apart the aurora to seize the stars. Wild things contain fragments of god. Uncarved laws judge the scars of cultivation and banish the people to bronze seasons, parched furrows burdened with savage truth. The wind had knowledge of trees. Now it surveys the wealth in iron and gold, Plunder deadly years before mortals abandon the blood-drenched earth. Piling up fractured life, a trace of children might transform the Milky Way, bright halls in the prison sky.

I worried that the unexpectedly dark theme might put off my collaborator, but he expressed enthusiasm for the draft, deeming it ideal for a different track than the one he’d first shared with me. The initial cut of music and speech enthralled me. “Both the musical aesthetic and the theme remind me of the Horizon video game series,” I told him. “The slightly robotic quality you added to the voice…turns the whole piece into an auditory cli-fi narrative: the noisy, oblivious humans chatter on until a child’s cry indicates something amiss; then the birds fade in, heralds of rewilding; finally, a vestigial AI offers fragmented, cryptic commentary on civilization’s downfall…Or maybe I’m just a geeky writer who reads way too much into these things!”

Undoubtedly I am, but that doesn’t detract from the magical final product. AmberLucent’s new album Over Mountains, Under Stars comprises four ambient/electronic tracks that the artist says were inspired by “the climate emergency, escapism, science, noise and serenity, the vastness of the universe and our search for meaning.” My words feature in the first track, After The Noise. The album provides a lovely soundtrack for writing, meditation, or serene moments in nature. I’m proud to have contributed to this cool piece of auditory art!


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