The house that Zapruder and friends built. (press photo)
Oakland's Michael Zapruder recently released his colloaborative, free-verse pop art album Pink Thunder on The Kora Records that showcases a collaboration with 23 poets, musicians, engineers; all working to build songs from new things.
I spent this morning dismantling songs, wiping their pink skulls with natural-cleaner wipes, drying them off with brown paper towels. I removed their bodies - a vintage water pistol, a preserved butterfly, a travel cage for small songbirds - from their skulls, and wrapped everything in bubble-wrap and butcher paper. I put them in medium-duty storage boxes and loaded them into my van. Later, I'll leave them in a climate-controlled storage space in Oakland.
A while ago, I took words on pages and planned music to go with the words. I wrote upper case letters above phrases, lower case letters above syllables. I made sets of directions for specific sounds to make and notes to sing. I lifted twenty-two poems from the perfect nowhere where poems live and threw them into the perfect din of music.
I followed those directions and turned them into electrons on tapes and bits on hard drives. I built up information that computers can interpret as sounds. I gradually constructed recordings, wrestling with heavy, lifeless things in my studio on the vacant ground floor of a commercial building on Franklin Street, to turn these half-formed golems into something living, something as graceful as a tern or a kestrel, or a bear or an eel.
When what I was hearing seemed like it was more than the sum of its parts - when it seemed like music - I loaded it onto tiny disks, like folds in grey matter. I clicked those into small circuits, like little brains, that live inside platforms that are like skulls. I put strange objects on top, like bodies. Then they sat like little servants, like wind-up birds that react to every situation with the same one call.
They waited for you to come pick up the headphones and press a red button to make them sing.
It's right to build songs from new things. Quoting Salman Rushdie on literature: "[it] tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be." Yes.
There was the simple curiosity and excitement of wondering if songs could be made from poems and if recordings could be embodied as art objects. There was the thrill of wondering what would happen if. There was the idea that unusual songs call for an unusual presentation. And there was the belief that music is a kind of treasure and so is human listening. Musical sound may be invisible and untouchable, and yet it seems that music merits a body. And when a listener offers the incalculable value of his or her full attention, that deserves a witness.
A portmanteau waits for you. It's really there. It exists to meet you and to reveal that meeting as it really is: unique, unrepeatable, hermetic. The exchange between you and the music, via the portmanteau, is your spark arcing back and forth. Portmanteaus are as quiet as a pine grove. They create meaning and context. They are musical.
Let's build new songs. Let's build new kinds of songs. Let's build new kinds of encounters. Let's build songs in the shape of poems or whatever else. Let's build songs that freak us out. Let's build songs that reveal the power of the new. Let's build songs that reveal our power.
Let's push the best buttons.
Michael Zapruder's album Pink Thunder is available now from The Kora Records.