I’m about to release my first spoken word album! Its title is “Strange Punctuation”. All but one of the tracks are finished, and I’m working on a chapbook that will fit into the CD cases. It was an enjoyable challenge to create this album. Here are some notes about the process.

This spoken word album began as a manuscript of poems. After I had finished collecting all the poems together into one printed set, I had grown frustrated with the manuscript. Then, Curt Seiss at Magnanimous Records called and asked if I had any material for a recording. I brought my new manuscript to the recording studio, along with some very old notebooks.

In the first session, we recorded words only. Between readings, Curt left the microphone on, and captured a lot of random conversation. The original idea had been to dissect this conversation, for its miscellaneous syllables, and to use those syllables as though they were musical notes. This, of course, would have removed the sounds from the context of language. They wouldn’t be words anymore. We abandoned that idea.

In the subsequent sessions, we edited the original recordings by adding layers of other sounds to them. At first, this felt to me like “illustration”, although Curt encouraged me to think about sounds in an associative way, rather than to find literal sound effects to accompany the poem. I guess one exception to that rule was “Clouds”. With that piece, we added all the sounds of an open mic night at a bar. At the end, we added a heckler who laughs at me. It really does sound like this was a live recording!

Along the way. I discovered my favorite part of the entire process. Editing sound is very much like editing printed words. You can add, subtract, rearrange the sounds in very much the same way that you can do that with the characters on the page. With sound, though, there are some new ways to edit. You can revise the speed, pitch, volume, echo and decay of the sounds of the words themselves. It was this discovery that prompted me to title the album “Strange Punctuation”.

Now that most of the studio work is complete, the final piece of this project is coming together. I’m going to print a small chapbook to accompany the spoken word album. To illustrate the chapbook, I’m collaborating with a photographer – a lifelong acquaintance of mine, Molly Humphreys Aguilar. Again, the goal here is not to illustrate, but to associate. We had a brainstorming session last week at a coffee shop, and we discussed the thematic elements in the various pieces, and wondered what sort of imagery should accompany each one. Molly’s photo studio, Piccadilly Posh, specializes in natural light photography. Of course, most of her imagery comes from the outdoors. I can’t wait to see them.

I’ve included one of the tracks in this post. Take a listen, and please tell me what you think.