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The Latest Adventures of Dutch Sound Poet Jaap Blonk

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Innovative Dutch vocal artist Jaap Blonk has created his own highly personal sound poetry. His vocal acrobatics are still an essential element of his sound palette but not an exclusive one. Since 2000 Blonk has developed new means and methods to expand and experiment with his vocals, with live sampling of his vocals, addition of electronics, morphing and mutating his voice with his own software and with like-minded improvisers. His latest three releases feature the breadth of his musical language.

Jaap Blonk
Songs of Little Sleep

This album is the most accessible of the three. Described by Blonk as a "disturbingly, engaging collection of songs on the topic of insomnia." There is little chance that these dense and wordless songs comprised of troubled vocals spiced with electronic noises will ease any kind of insomnia. But these songs may affect the coming dreams with vivid alien soundscapes, thus exchanging one nocturnal distress with one that is perhaps more comforting.

Blonk's commanding vocals are highly expressive, convincing in its inventive phrasing and committed delivery of the experience of sleepless nights, including the occasional nightmares, but with an eccentric-dadaist, dark sense of humor. He is completely possessed in his own emotionally charged dramas, playing different roles of exhausted men, all delivered with imaginary languages. His moving tributes to the late Canadian sound poet Claude Gauvreau, "Yapping at the moon," and the Austrian Dada writer and sound poet Raoul Hausmann, "Reading Light," both seminal influences on Blonk's art, are fascinating.

Blonk, surprisingly enough, succeeded in creating a coherent album out of these disturbing songs. All offer enough lively vocal adventures to keep the listener alert and regrettably, awake despite the insomnia.

Jaap Blonk
Traces of Speech

In the mid-eighties Blonk began to write sound poetry but found out that the common Latin alphabet and later the International Phonetic Alphabet(IPA) can not capture the whole spectrum of his voice sounds. He developed a system for his sound poetry scores, naming it BLIPAX (Blonk's IPA extended). Now he discovered that the symbols of BLIPAX are not contented with the symbols of dead letters, but took a life of their own. His new scores of sound poetry became drawings, something halfway between sound poetry and visual poetry, traces of actual speech.

Blonk converted these drawings into electronic sounds, importing them into audio software and later converted them again into English and German texts through Optical Character Recognition software. Each of the three forms were subjected to further digital treatment.

The seven chapters of this album-book (available also as a PDF file on Blonk's website) feature abstract, almost Dada-like texts. All force Blonk to find a meaningful way to recite and interpret the multitude of punctuation signs, still with a distinct variation of each of the seven electronic-vocal sound environments, but intentionally refraining from pursuing any personal expression.

The sonic result is arresting. The primary usage of vocals—real, sampled and processed ones, is liberated from the disciplined conventions, grammar, etiquette and sense of time of space of known earthly languages. Suddenly the most familiar sonic aspect of human communication is transformed to an unworldly, futuristic level. As if the language of human beings was adopted and enhanced by aliens who charged any basic articulation with tons of information, employing vocals as one but not the dominant practical in a chain of sounds, keeping its expressiveness and emotional delivery neutral. Now, after this radical alteration, only a margin of this intriguing form of communication can be deciphered by us humans, but all—earthlings and other forms of beings in the greater universe—can get a glimpse of its infinite options.

Jaap Blonk / Sandy Ewen / Damon Smith / Chris Cogburn
North of Blanco
Balance Point Acoustics

This session brings together Blonk with three experimental improvisors from Texas—guitarist Sandy Ewen, double bassist Damon Smith and percussionist Chris Cogburn/ Bonnie Jones/ Bhob Rainey. Together they create six complex, rich and multi-layered textures, recorded during a short tour by the quartet.

None of the four plays or expresses himself/herself sonically in an even remotely obvious manner. Blonk, compared to the three Texans, sound rather relaxed and even amused in these noisy, nervous improvisations. The underrated Ewen extracts otherworldly metallic sounds from her guitar, attaching various objects to its strings; Smith, whose label released this album, first played with Blonk in 1998 in an ad-hock improvising quartet and collaborates frequently with Ewen, plays a prepared double bass, inspired by the sonic ideas of the double bass duo PascalitoPascal Niggenkemper and Sean Ali, who wrote the poetic liner notes for this album; and percussionist Cogburn colors these open-ended textures with subtle touches.

The 21-minutes "Brewing Tools" feature this fearless quartet at its best. Blonk moves organically between few eccentric, talkative vocal characters, all tuned and integrating into the like minded restless sonic texture. His vocal acrobatics are nurtured by the strange sounds that Ewen, Smith and Cogburn produce, but dominating the intensity of the piece's immediate and tight interplay and its shifting emotional atmosphere.

Tracks and Personnel
Songs of Little Sleep
Tracks: Slight Underdoze; Below the Abyss; Yapping at the Moon; Midnight Knock; Somnambulance; Apnea Therapy; Second Class Nightmares; Perpetual Solstic; Insomnia Calendar; Reading Light; One Dream Remembered; Thirteen Neighbours; Multiphobics.
Personnel: Jaap Blonk: voice, electronics.
Traces of Speech
Tracks: Gossip of Truth; True Secret; Secret Impediment; Impeded Pretext; Proof of Gossip; Pleading Pretext; Plea for Proof.
Personnel: Jaap Blonk—voice, electronics.
North of Blanco
Tracks: Cueing the Nooks; Net Korgo; Winner Kult Song; Brewing Tools; Hebber Took Us In; On The Big Wulk.
Personnel:Jaap Blonk: voice, electronics; Sandy Ewen: guitar, objects; Damon Smith: prepared double bass; Chris Cogburn: percussion.


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