Michael Peters & Erik Carlson

Bowery Poetry Club, July 20, 2008

The Bowery Poetry Club was transformed into the chapter house of an abandoned flying saucer on July 20th with a performance by Michael Peters and Erik Carlson, the magi-like annunciators of Peters’ Vaast Bin. The venue’s stage was covered in spaghetti-like ringlets of wires and Christmas lights, with Carlson crouched in front of an inlet of sound pedals and audio devices. Carlson has been performing and recording as area c since 2002, working with loops of found sound and sonic techné the industry over. Peters, who last performed at the Bowery Poetry Club with John M. Bennett’s Be Blank Consort, sat by the stage with a mic, cymbal, and laptop, reading directly from a copy of his Vaast Bin; n ephemerisi, published by Calamari Press.

For an hour and a half the two interacted like relays, with Peters reading entries from his book (“Vaast Bin minus one becoming (}) eighty three... there are limit switches and there are limit switches.”) and Carlson answering with atonal static, sometimes pulsating, sometimes droning: an admixture of distortions cycling through his equipment. The noise-sounds generated by his editing were never atmospheric; they reacted organically to shifts in Peter’s intensity and posture and vice versa. An orphaned morpheme of Peters’ found itself the unwitting prince of a loop, mirrored again and again until its filament vanished into static; a faded contrail, the sound shaded off into the recesses of secondary eardrums I was unaware that I owned. Peters stood up to walk among the listeners, setting his microphone down and reading unamplified while Carlson’s noise-sounds treaded in whispers and clattering interferences.

Behind the two performers, a video projector flickered with illustrations of beaks, motes, waves, and starlings from Vaast Bin. These short visual poems, featuring the book’s totemic characters—the } and { symbols—fetishize the materiality of the page, like the textural charcoal renderings themselves (where an apostrophe can grow hair). Peters broke away from the poem at times to choose other videos on the laptop—a tidal wave, word groups, cosmic photos.

Vaast Bin is a meditation on its own nature as text, exploring the linguistics existing in some mytho-poetic this-ness. A place where certainty is deferred in favor of resemblance (the brace symbol— { —can denote labias, bows, birds, and waves) that constantly loop back upon themselves. Its typographical braces house adjectives and descriptors in a tightly-knit, seemingly Oulipian restricted grammatological terrain. The “necessity of its form” necessitates its own dissolution; one could trace this pedigree as lying somewhere between John Ashbery’s The System and Michael Basinski’s The Lay of Fraya Wray, or not. The visuality of the poems, which writhe with repeated backslashes, letter strings and vacuums, were loosely translated into Peters’ hand motions, pauses, and phonetic murmurs. Sometimes literal instructions were followed, as when Peters read “feral electric switch” and then pressed a nearby pedal wired into Carlson’s network. Although un-choreographed, the performance was tight, with sounds and actions responding to one another like calls in the wild; articulated and deliberate, but prone to primal humors.

Peters’ voice oscillated between clandestine whispers and full-timbered, lung-stoking oratories, while Carlson sat calmly navigating the folds. Their unrestrained, yet attentive communication pointed toward some unseen intrigue we’d all been colluding in. Yes, indeed, it was a séance toward some communal telepathy of the moment, existing between the word/sounds and the words and the sounds. Peters’ parenthetical grins transmit his earnestness and enthusiasm, clinching the ear/eye trap—instant guilt by experiential association.

The duo’s work that night alighted on the many oddments of personality that collide to become a work. Peters’ enthusiasm didn’t wane after the performance ended; he was on hand to share chapbooks and cds as well as his thoughts about fellow correspondents and collaborators. It seems an inherent quality of experimental poetry and noise communities that when the mics are off and the books are closed, all the switches are still on.

Contributor

Warren Fry

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