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Guest Post: Music of the Moon by Erica Goss

Erica Goss, the poet who wrote Wild Place, continues to keep us up to date on her 12 Moons project with vocal talents of Nic S. and the musical talents of Kathy McTavish. We’ll be sure to keep everyone in the look on this collaborative project.  Check out the first guest post, her second guest post, and her third guest post.

Please gave Erica a warm welcome.

In the city I love, I stand
next to strangers who talk
of Mumbai or Beijing
while we wait for fish tacos,
reading enigmas in spray-paint,
solemn obedient children
gathered beneath the fall moon,
resplendent with energy
filched from the sun.

             from “Trapper’s Moon” by Erica Goss

As a child I practiced Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on my family’s battered Wurlitzer. The music seemed to start and end at the same place, reflecting the waxing and waning of the moon. I can still hear my piano teacher reminding me to “slow down, don’t rush the music,” and the tones I coaxed from that old piano.

I recently learned that Beethoven did not name his piece “Moonlight Sonata.” That name came from German music critic (and poet) Ludwig Rellstab, who compared the first movement of “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor” to the moonlight reflected on the water of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Regardless, the name stuck, and certainly influenced my experience of the music.

Cellist, composer and multi media artist Kathy McTavish makes soundscapes that evoke moonlight on water. In 12 Moons, many of the poems incorporate the idea that the moon influences our lives in unseen ways, tugging at us with gravity and forcing us into cycles like ocean tides. Kathy’s music explores that mysterious, liminal place. In her artist’s statement, she writes “My cross-sensory, blurred vision of the world impacts my visual language. I am inspired by emergent, organic forms, beat poets and abstract expressionist art.” Kathy’s soundscapes anchor the mood of 12 Moons, linking image and voice.

I asked Kathy about how she creates soundscapes, and what she thinks makes a good video poem.

“I try to work with poetry in a way that’s somewhat ambiguous. In poetry there’s a sense of the submerged, of hidden things. I want to preserve that strangeness with my soundscapes. You have to be a good listener to capture those qualities, and remember that the poem is a separate thing, apart from even the poet. I feel that video poems work best when they are non-literal, and non-illustrative, since the poet lives in a visual world already. I like images that have a fleeting quality, like seeing people on a train for just a split second.

In an effective video poem, the viewer can’t really follow one element more than any other. There are three things going on: the poem, the sound and the images. Your attention shifts between them, and that gives you a floaty feeling. My favorites have a looseness to them. The images are part of the soundscape, because images are already coming from the poem.”

What’s your process for working with Swoon (Swoon is the video artist for 12 Moons)?

“I started by releasing sound fabrics and textures to Swoon. I wanted a certain quality, almost an iciness to the sound. Swoon took my sounds and morphed them further. I created sound samples, weaving in certain sounds I liked because they were edgy and strange. The last three (Moon) poems I did all of the sound for, keeping it minimal. I looked into the poems, trying to find where they unwound. I have always trusted Swoon’s vision as an artist, so when he asks me to participate in a video poetry project, I’m happy to do it. I know I’ll get to read really good poems – never any bad ones! Our collaborations work and I always learn something.”

How does it feel to play the cello?

“It’s been said that the cello expresses the grief of the world. It’s close to the human voice in pitch and register. You have to be loose to play the cello. You have to let go. The cello rests against the breastbone, and there’s a physical connection between you and the instrument. I was classically trained, but now I do abstract soundscapes, more of a sound art thing, and video installations. In an installation, a space can become like a book. I compose from the cello, and when I play, I visualize. Synesthetic fusions happen for me.”

Do you have anything else to share about this project?

“I love that it’s mapped into a life – a year. Like the moon, it’s luminous and textured. There is an awareness of cycles, of the moon’s influence on our human cycles, and of death.”

12 Moons will appear beginning January 2014 at Atticus Review.

The last post about the process of making 12 Moons appears next month. Here are links to the artists involved in 12 Moons:

  • Swoon’s website
  • Kathy McTavish’s website
  • Erica Goss’s website
  • Erica Goss’s column on video poetry.

I loved that Kathy wants to bring life to the hidden elements in the poems through her soundscapes. 

What are your thoughts so far on this project coming to us in January?

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  • Thanks for keeping us updated on this project!