Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Robert King Interviews M. D. Friedman About His Digital Poetry

Interview about Digital Poetry with M. D. Friedman
by Robert King
1) You’re a photographer, musician, and digital artist as well as a poet. You do these things separately, of course, but you also blend them. For example, your digital poem, “Forever Trespass,” is constructed from reading a two-directional poem (one voice reading down the columns, another across the rows) and blending those sounds with animated photographs and digital art.
You’ve written about Dadaism and have said that “Dada poets opted for effect over articulation, for creating an experience over making sense.” Is this what you’re after, an “experience” that’s substantially different than a poem with, let’s say, added effects?
The ability of a digital poem to create a transformational experience, to take the viewer to that place where poetry comes from, a place of intense internal understanding, is greatly enhanced by appealing to the mind in multiple ways rather than with just text. The sound art behind the audio spoken word helps to disengage the logical side of the brain and allow the viewer's emotive mind to respond to the poetic experience in a different way. The first time I heard a recording of Gertrude Stein reading her own work, I found that her barrage of vocal repetition confounded my efforts to understand what she was saying in any sort of literal context. Although this frustrated me at first, I soon surrendered to the rainfall of her words and found their tickling pin prick exhilarating. That is what I am after with much of what I create. I often want to create sensations that the logical use of words are inadequate to describe. I have recently discovered that there is a very significant synergistic effect when I can blend all of my creative pursuits into a single work toward the purpose of drawing the reader/viewer/listener into feeling the feelings I am trying to express. I want to recreate certain feelings I am feeling inside in someone else, to awaken their subconscious to the images we all dream together. I am trying to communicate as directly as I would be if I were there physically touching them.

2) Side-not maybe: Regarding Dada—I got the impression in my youth that the Dadaists wanted to ‘end’ art by taking things to extremes. Is this the wrong impression?
Dada was anti art establishment and anti art hierarchy. They were against the forces they saw destroying the world. I believe they saw themselves as true artists, free to express themselves without the societal constraints of commercially produced art.

3) Regarding your piece The Word,” you’ve described its origin this way: “The images along with artwork and photos flooded my mind while I was in the shower. I went downstairs and started free-styling the audio. The sounds then shaped the animation. Suddenly I arrived somewhere I had never been—somewhere in the middle of groans, flashing color & splintered text.” Most of us writers have experienced the flash of an idea in words, and I can imagine a visual artist getting such a sudden inspiration, but it sounds like you got it almost all at once. Is this unusual for you or do you often start with one specific thing (a word or image or photography or sound) and then layer other media with it?
This was indeed an unusual experience for me. It happened to me previously with my text based poetry only a couple of times, only after a long dry spell, like a thunder shower after a drought. In the case I was referring to, it was with the first digital poem I had ever tried to create, although the idea of doing something in an electronic medium combining my poetry, art, photography, animation and sound art had been nagging at me for several years.

4) What are the strengths and weaknesses of the digital genre? What can you do in a visual mode than you can’t do with print? Could such combinations be distracting to the ‘reader’ or does it enhance the poem?
I think I have already spoken about many of the artistic advantages of this new genre. Another advantage is that it appeals strongly to many people who might not be interested in printed poetry. It seems to engaging especially to the highly stimulated younger generation. Also it is positioned to make excellent use of the rapidly growing market of digitally distributed media for hand held video devices like I-Phones. It's most important weakness for me is that I have yet to figure out how to perform the work live. Another problem is the amount of time it takes to produce a 2 minute piece.

5) To take just one example from your work, and that of several others, a word or phrase is often repeated in a piece. This could be bothersome (or some other negative adjective) in print but it doesn’t seem to be in an aural mode. Can one work with language in a recognizable way (i. e. syntactically) and still develop an enhanced effect?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes Yes. Yes Yes. Yes Yes. Yes Yes Yes Yes. Yes Yes. Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes. Yes. I have seen poetry videos (that look like old MTV style music videos) do that well. I also find that song writers often get away with poetry that would not stand well alone on the printed page because they over rely on the power of the music to enhance their words. Personally, I find if what I want to communicate I am able to describe or argue well with syntactic language, then the simple written word is a most effective means.

6) How can/do you “publish” or perform visual poetry? Again, how is this different from traditional ‘written-only’ poetry?
Since my digital poetry is delivered in a video format, I can publish it on DVD or as a downloadable video file. I am actually using the same "print on demand" service to do this that I have already used to published a couple of my print manuscripts ( Although my digital poetry could be projected on a big screen with surround sound at your local movie theatre, I have no idea how to perform it live. Wouldn't it be cool if digital poetry took over the role cartoons used to play at movie theatres!

7) What’s next? What are the trends in the new genre? Is there any direction in the experimentation?
When I find the time to make another digital poem, I want to play some more with the "voicing" of the lines. By this, I mean I want experiment to with ways that create the effect of the reader/viewer/listener hearing some of the words in their head as if they were spoken in their own voice.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Digital Poetry?

The concept of digital creation in terms of making art & music seems straight forward enough -- you use software to manipulate and/or create sounds or images in ways not possible before we had computers. But what is digital poetry and what electronic tools beyond digital distribution are available to muse maniacs and word artists? How can a poet make words do more than they would if they were spoken or typed normally.

Perhaps the most common entry point for shaping poetry with new digital tools is through combining it with media formats already being redefined by the new forms of digital expression. Spoken word sampling can add new dimensions to experimental electronic music & avante garde video. Word and phrase forms can also be a powerfully integrated into Dadaistic digital collages. But how and when will word driven artists finally be able to enjoy the ease of digital creation and power of electronic expression now available to visua l and sound artists?

Dada poets opted for effect over articulation, for creating an experience over making sense. Recording technology advances over the last 50 years have allowed many new poets to experiment with using audio processing to create new forms of experience from their traditionally created poems. The work of Charles Amirkhanian is a great example. This is well illustrated with Charles Amirkhanian's collaboration with Anthony Gnazzo to create William Panda with Back Mark to Martyre. In this piece, the 1960's vintage echo effects with dual voices were used to bombard the listener with percussive word repetition. In his beat-dada Three Permutations, Brion Gysin repeats a single phrase several times. Words are deranged in differmenting orders swith each realiterations creating either an overtly relaxed or a drastically agitated state in the listener. With popularity of mp3's we are just now starting to see many more poets publishing spoken word in digital audio formats. The web site,, boasts over 300 audio poems for free download. This, of course, is just the beginnings of the beginning. If new dada teaches us one lesson, it is that when it comes to experiential expression, nothing made is ever enough. The richer the experience, the more hedonistic the dream, the better. Why stop with just sound on sound? Give us something to touch, something to see, something to sink our subconscious fangs into.

There certainly have been attempts over the years to create word based multimedia experiences. The equipment and software is now affordable and available for home computers to do this and so much more; however, very few poets have created digital word experiences that have truly transcended what could be done with just the simple spoken voice. Web sites like that are dedicated to combining music, images, and poetry using flash that reveal certain exciting new possibilities for word driven experimentation, but as of yet I have seen very little there that pushes the boundaries of what could be done with the low tech old school multimedia slide shows, little that will revolutionize the way poets have created poetry for hundreds of years.

Other web sites like definitely have paved the way for what is to come. Poems here range for interactive puzzles to moving letter patterns creating paradoxically a new kind of "fluid concrete" poetry. Others combine music, experimental video clips, images and spoken word with scrolling or flying text. As more poets begin creating works incorporating such rich media, the dream of digital dada everywhere will soon entrance the sleeping public. The boundaries between different forms of creative expression, between the visual, the cerebral and the audio is becoming ever more blurred as the new digitalogists begin exploring new ways to create provocative virtual experiences.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006


The parallels are irresistible. The need for Dada and means for Dada are all in place almost 100 years after the first Dada emergence.

The need for an antiwar and antiestablishment cultural movement has never been more intense as it has been in recent years. Just look at what has been going on since 2001. I mean the need for some action in Afghanistan was at least understandable albeit what we did there as a nation was almost comically excessive. Uncle Sam became a swaggering Saturday Morning cartoon bully, a fumbling giant Dudley Dooright with a saddlebag full of nuclear grenades, a mad Mountie that never got his man. But our invasion of Iraq was pure insanity. In fact our country full of blind rage after 9-11 went after Saddam like a Ku Klux Klan lynch mob that found a Afro-American in its little town after dark. It did not matter that the Afro-American in question was really a Cuban cigar dealer. I remember the hate mail and threats I got when I tried to distribute a bumper sticker two months before the invasion that showed an American flag upside down and said “Ashamed to Be American.” Many of the emails came from people I had thought to be reasonably intelligent and who are now questioning many of the policies of the Bush administration. Our country was (is?) temporarily (permanently?) insane; perhaps we need a little Dada to bring us out of it or at least entertain us in our delusionary state.

The means for a Nouveau Dada are emerging inherent in the technologies for both the production and distribution of creative expression. In the visual arts, Dada often superimposed everyday images into evocative collages. Digital photography and computer manipulation makes this an explosively simple task. In addition, the ease of digital manipulation of image and sound allows anyone with a little technological savvy the ability to create various forms of individualistic expression without the limits of the disciplined skills previously a prerequisite. Not only can anyone now do do Dada, the internet greatly facilitates the distribution of digital works without having to pay dues to the art parasites, the hierarchal establishment of publishers, agents, galleries, critics, art juries and traditional museum boards. Along with the creation of digital art, however, comes the loss of uniqueness of a given piece. Although this is problematic for the economy of the art elite, it provides opportunity for the art lovers of limited means. Is this not at least part of what Duchamp was after when he massed produced and signed his “Ready-mades” in the early 1900's.

Most importantly, most of what can be done with digital media has not yet been done. Digital expression has an undeveloped potential to transform the contemporary cultural experience far beyond the boundaries of traditional media. Please join us in exploring the possibilities of Nouveau Dada.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

What is dada?

Digital Dada is dada for the 21st Century. But, “What is dada to me?” is the question afoot. What dada was, will be, or is to anyone else is irrelevant to this point. Dada cannot be argued, only invented, and, in this case, reinvented.

Dada is…
simply stated yet full of contradiction
pretentiously unpretentious
indispensable but useless
relevant without meaning
understanding everything without knowing anything important
the afterglow of tortured thought
the power to do nothing and make shit happen
a lonely inward leaning reaching out to others
passive amidst the raging revolution it engenders
humanizing in an automated society
a luminous cry shattering the dark silence of convention
a tsunami of clarity pushing forward the twisted nightmare of the unconscious
a breath of peace eyeing the hurricane of self-destruction
perennial suicide and perpetual rebirth
the joy that leaps from my heart each time I die anew


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Sunday, May 28, 2006

I May Be Out of My Mind

I may be out of my mind but I am not sure what else to call it. Boom boom & it's DaDa! DaDa is something you make for no good reason that has not been made before.

I did my first digital art piece in the Fall of 2005 primarily by accident. I was trying to design a back cover for my last book of poetry, Where We Reach, & 10 hours later I was staring at Where We Reach Digital Accident #1. My son & my girlfriend said they thought it might be art , but I am still not sure. Maybe it was Digital Dada.

Since then I have been hooked and have done shows with traditional artists with whom I felt like some kind of freak. I mean I can't paint & I can't draw but I could put stuff up on canvas in half the time & print as many copies as I cared to. I was even starting to feel guilty about it. Then it occurred to me that digital dadaists could totally revolutionize the art scene with explosive creativity & the internet distribution of our work.

We just need to ban together and share the discoveries we make down our electronic paths of creativity. Hence the idea for a free collaborative gallery and the formation of an internet community of digital creators. Welcome cyber brothers and sisters, you no longer need to feel isolated in your computer creativity or entrapped by the conventions of traditional art. Welcome to Digital Dada Land.


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