Initiated by Isidore Isou (born Jean-Isidore Goldstein), a young refugee from Romania, lettrism was a multidisciplinary creative movement that began in Paris in 1946 but soon expanded by attracting numerous creative people. Lettrist work was inspired by calligraphy, initially for books but also for visual art. In the age of print, it was quite innovative, although it may not have fared as well in preprint times. One recurring device is letters that resemble verses, even though they are devoid of words. Prominent writers and artists based in France such as Jean-Louis Brau, Gil J. Wolman, Maurice Lemaître, Roberto Altmann, Roland Sabatier, and Jean-Paul Curtay were among those associated with the group at various times.
The movement was named Lettrism because historically it was first and foremost interested in rethinking poetry, which at the time was judged to be exhausted when conveyed simply through words and concepts. Poetic lettrism clearly and systematically for the first time (taking inspiration from Dada) proposed a new conception of poetry entirely reduced to letters and eliminating all semantics. Not unlike other self-conscious agglomerations, lettrism was particularly skilled at producing manifestos which can be read with varying degrees of sense. By discounting semantic and syntactical coherence for language art, some lettrist works are considered the precursors of concrete poetry. Among the alumni are Guy Debord (1931–94), who is commonly credited with initiating the Situationist International (1958–72), which, according to some, represents art’s most profound, courageous, and successful involvement in radical politics. While Situationist writings have been translated into English, lettrist texts largely have been left out.
Find out more about lettrism in A dictionary of the avant-gardes. Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
The first image above was created by Roberto Altmann, and the second by Maurice Lemaître–both were artists associated with the lettrist movement.
Below is a video of Orson Welles interviewing Isidore Isou about lettrism and sound poetry in 1955. Be sure to turn up your volume when watching it.
Noise-canceling headphones, tinnitus maskers, LPs that play ocean sounds, nature-sound mobile apps, and in-ear smart technologies illuminate how the true purpose of media is not information transmission, but rather the control of how we engage our environment. These devices give users the freedom to remain unaffected in the changeable and distracting spaces of contemporary capitalism, revealing how racial, gendered, ableist, and class ideologies shape our desire to block unwanted sounds.
In a noisy world of haters, trolls, and information overload, guarded listening can be a necessity for self-care, but our efforts to shield ourselves can also decrease our tolerance for sonic and social difference.
This according to Hush: Media and sonic self-control by Mack Hagood (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019).
Launched by Taylor & Francis in 2015, Sound studies aims to provide a forum for emergent ideas, theories, and topics, but it is also committed to an ongoing dialogue with some of the field’s rich legacy in areas such as soundscapes, sound art, film music, histories of listening, the tensions and synergies of sound and vision, and many others.
The editors also hope to initiate a broader conversation about sound across multiple geographic, social, and cultural spaces, and about how sound travels across such spaces, facilitating the formation of new communities and alliances in some cases while also creating new boundaries and distinctions in others.
Below, Matthew Herbert’s Foreign bodies, which is discussed in one of the articles in the inaugural issue—the recording assembles its sonic palette out of digestive gurgling, blood, toothbrushing, popping joints, handclaps, speech, non-verbal vocalizations, and singing.
The journal primarily addresses disciplines within media and communication studies, aesthetics, musicology, comparative literature, cultural studies, and sociology. To push the border of interdisciplinary sound studies into new areas, it also encourages contributions from disciplines such as psychology, health care, architecture, and sound design.
As the only international journal to take a humanities-based interdisciplinary approach to sound, SoundEffects responds to the increasing global interest in sound studies.
Launched in 2011, Journal of sonic studies provides a platform for theorists and artists to share relevant work regarding the sonic environment.
JSS presents, stimulates, and brings together a versatility of possible approaches; that is why it pays attention to the sonic design of consumer articles (cars, washing machines, coffee-makers) as well as to the influence of hearing on the relation between mother and fetus; to urban noise pollution as well as the use of sonic weapons in war zones; to interventions in public space by sound artists as well as the effects of background music in shopping malls.
JSS advocates multidisciplinary research and is open for knowledge from various fields of study—from history to philosophy, sociology and anthropology; from medical studies to architecture, legal and technical sciences; from ecology to sound art, performance and media studies; and so on.
Cows respond strongly to changes in the muted, subliminal strata of the cowshed soundscape; the elimination of such sounds, or their masking through music and other designed sound foregrounds, causes pronounced disturbances in the animals’ physiology and behavior.
A positive soundscaping for cowsheds must take advantage of the subjective implications of sounds such as the first moo of a newborn calf, which carries the strongest psychological impact even if it cannot be described as aesthetically beautiful.
This according to “The blessed noise and little moo: Aspects of soundscape in cowsheds” by Maru Pöyskö, an essay included in Soundscapes: Essays on vroom and moo (Tampere: Tampereen Yliopisto, Kansanperinteen Laitos, 1994). Below, a newborn calf demonstrates the little moo.
The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s … Continue reading →
Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →