Electric Line, The Poetics of Digital Audio Editing ~ Martin Spinelli
Carrie & Melissa

Traditional radio semantics and editing technology have been transposed into contemporary digital poetry presentation in consideration to: flow, continuity, narrative, and linearity. Spinelli argues that this terminology is indicative of "technodeterminism" where essentially outdated modes of discourse about analog technology are still being used to frame the discussion of digital poetics.

Spinelli: "poetry is - or is at least is inseparable from - the means by which it is produced, and distributed or transmitted"(100).

Morris: Complex array of social relationships that follow from poetry's relationship to technology refocus our critical attention to the space between an audio text and a response to it. Morris also describes an "'underestimated dimension of textuality' found in the aural,...which suggests the complex array from poetry's relationship to technology" (100). In essence, changes in production technology, from analog to digital, have effected how poetry is broadcast and how its sound helps to create a layer of additional meaning for the listener.

Spinelli: "Almost everything that was once produced on quarter-inch reel to reel tape today is produced using a computer based digital audio editor--but our criticism of literary radio, our systems of radio semantics, and the form and shape of radio language have failed to keep pace" (101). He further elaborates that the focus cannot simply shift to "what computers can do with speech, music or image" but to balance that technology as " a logical transportation of language [which] always opens new possibilities for exchange [and] develop[s], expand[s], and articulate[s] the parameters of that exchange" (101). In simple terms, we cannot continue to use the same terminology and systems of classification that we previously used for analog technology. Instead, we need a new way of talking about the new (digital) technology and the way in which computer technology helps the listener to create meaning from sound.

Andrew Crisell, Understanding Radio, describes a taxonomy of radio signs:
  • iconic: object
  • indexical: direct link
  • symbolic: no obvious connection
Spinelli-dislikes the categorization and calls it plain vanilla, late nineteenth-century semiology

Spinelli: Explains that Crisell, "argues that words have a dual semilogical status" (102) meaning they are both symbols of the literal things they represent, but also tied to the person who is speaking which links the object to that which produces its sound. In this fashion, Crisell clings to "analog sensibility" (103) and to an outdated notion that what makes the sound must be faithfully represented to the listener, not a digital facsimile thereof. (Think the horse's hoofbeats mimicked by the clicking of coconuts in Monte Python's The Holy Grail). Spinelli counters with the idea that "All sounds on radio are not indices of some original voice or authentic sound producer but indices of radio technology" (102). According to Spinelli, "today digital audio recording and editing software is sold as the apex of fidelity...because of its ability to remove...extraneous sounds and allow direct access to the pure voice" (103).

Spinelli: Editing in a digital environment is not a linear process of removing or splicing like when dealing with analog technology. Instead, it involves layering, "addition rather than subtraction" (104).

Concept of Fidelity: "Functionally and ironically however, the less we hear the medium, the more work it is doing to erase itself and therefore, the more present it is"(104).

"Poetry played a crucial role in the development of analog semantics - cuing listeners in on what to expect. Poetry's use at speech recording's birth both provides insight into the development of analog semantics and suggests a future sphere of engagement for digital poetics" (105).

Henri Chopin: manipulations of the voice through recording, Peche de Nuit (1957) and Le Corpsbis (1983)
"At the moment when 'cutting' comes to be heard as a compositional practice divorced from linearity, it is possible to begin describing a digital poetics"(106).

Henri Chopin - The Body Is A Sound Factory & Co

William Burroughs: rupturing of recognizable from, print looping of large sections of narrative with slight alternations, The Ticket (1987)

Webcasts: use digital technology in analog fashion
Interview with Don Swaim, February 10, 1984.
(24 min. 55 sec.)
MP3 File

John Oswald: Plunderphonic musical works splices microsonic pieces of familiar songs and rearranges them also morphing their cultural context

Erik Belgum: ambient writing is cut up pieces subjected to extensive technological processing with simple, 'jostling' inserts of voice.

Mignone: recognizable to unrecognizable speech patterns, Hole in the Head

pp114-115 Definitions of Edits

"There needs to be a taxonomy for radio speech editing that recognizes the characteristics of digital technology, respects a listener's ability to approach material with variegated interpretive strategies, and expands literary programmings engagement with the relationship of the core radio"(114).

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you agree with Spinelli that "poetry is inseparable from the means by which it is produced, and distributed, or transmitted"? How does this relate to our discussions of the literary movement towards that of digitizing the text?
2. Does the text lose anything in terms of fidelity to the original sounds when artificial means are used to produce it?
3. Do you agree that we need an updated way to talk about the use of digital sound that does not refer back to the dated terminology associated with the analog mode? What might that be or entail?