using text vs voice in videopoems

I wrote this a few weeks ago with the first text-only videopoem I made:

I remembered that in Tom Konyves’ videopoetry manifesto, he categorized videopoems according to their usage of text, with two key distinctions drawn between sound text and visual text. (He also asserted that visual text is ‘charged with leading’ the videopoetry genre, although I’m not sure I agree with that.) I realized that what with Whale Sound and Voice Alpha and now this interest in videopoetry, I’ve been engaged with ‘sound’ text almost exclusively for months now. The idea of making a videopoem without voice and with only visual text was therefore appealing.

I’ve now put together three vpoems with text only and no voice (links at bottom of this post). This is what I have learned so far, and, very interested, continue to ponder:

– Text is not a ‘poor relation’ to voice in videopoems. Not sure why or how I had absorbed this ‘fact’, but I had. Text is a different mechanism from voice. In videopoems text can be as strong (or stronger, if the voice alternative available is relatively weak) a mechanism as voice.

– Text used in videopoems is not like text on the page – it is more a text/voice hybrid, a halfway mark between both.

– This is probably because a) text on the page is a block, all visible, all together, in front of you while b) voice is a ribbon of sound unfurling for you – each word takes the place of the previous one, which disappears in front of it.

-Text in a videopoem takes on the ‘ribbon unfurling’ aspect of voice – each word takes the place of the previous one, which disappears in front of it.

– Text can be an active, communicative character in the performance that is videopoem.

– Text-as-ribbon can very competently (or more competently, depending on the strength of the voice alternative available) convey the nuances that voice-as-ribbon conveys – font, font size, text animation, sound/sense byte, pace – all these are elements that can convey feeling, cadence, tone, emotion.

– Text-as-ribbon, like voice-as-ribbon, is not a great respecter of linebreaks and other page-centric devices – the best way to present a sound/sense byte as text on the screen is not necessarily the way it is laid out on the page.

– Videopoem makers who are tired of or don’t trust the sound of their own voice need not be limited by the ‘voicings’ available to them, by whatever means – have at it with text, people!

Text-only videopoems:

the situation on Thursday by Nic Sebastian
you never thought by Nic Sebastian
No. XLII by e. e. cummings

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

10 thoughts on “using text vs voice in videopoems”

  1. Visual text is not the replacement of voice in a videopoem; it simply recognizes that the soundtrack has the potential to function as an “independent” catalyst in the integration of text and image. It brings to the videopoem the secret ingredient – from another dimension – simultaneously guiding, shadowing, punctuating and enveloping the “unfurling” of the work.

  2. Hi Tom – thanks for stopping by and commenting – it’s good to hear from you. Not sure I understand your point when you say “Visual text is not the replacement of voice in a videopoem.” If I make an editorial decision to employ the actual word DOG in a videopoem (rather than attempting to represent it, say, with images or sound effects), I have three choices – a) use visual text to spell it out on the screen, b) use voice to sound it out, or c) use both. If I choose a) or b), why is visual text not replacing – or displacing, one might even say – voice as choice, and vice versa?

    Certainly in the three videopoems I have listed in the post above as text-only examples, I made a deliberate production decision to refrain from using voice (as I normally do) and to actively replace voice with visual text. Best, Nic

  3. Visual text was never meant to be voiced.

    There is, at the outset, an inner sense of need/expectation/anxiety for text to appear (displayed or voiced). I never saw it as a choice – it was “born” as one or the other. When you first looked at it, you instinctively knew whether it was affecting the eye or the ear of the viewer.

    I guess it is “possible” to replace voiced text with visual text – if one has not recognized what it was meant to be in the first place…

    Can I just say here how much I am enjoying your processing? (and that you were the first to respond to ‘charged with leading’)

  4. Tom – OK, this is very interesting to me. Now you are talking about the process of composition itself. The videopoetry process as I have practiced it, and have observed it being practiced so far, usually goes like this:

    step 1 – select a poem already written – already existing independently as visual text
    step 2 – illustrate/animate the poem using film & sound (to include voice)

    Another composition process I have tried (don’t know how frequently it occurs, but have not see any examples that I can recall) is:

    step 1 – watch pre-existing film footage
    step 2 – write a poem in response to that footage
    step 3 – combine voice version of poem & footage with other sound to create finished product

    What you seem to be suggesting, however, is a completely different approach to composition, which apparently goes something like this:

    step 1 – identify a range of elements of composition, including: written text, spoken text, film footage & music or other sound effects
    step 2 – combine all of the above into a videopoem

    This is very intriguing to me. The process of ‘poem’ composition here would not consist of assembling a simple written text on a page, but more of constructing a *screenplay* on a page, which lists the different elements of composition in the order they are to presented. So the poem does not exist on the page, except as a set of ‘instructions.’ The poem only truly exists in its final form, as videopoem.

    Very, very interesting.

    A separate question: What *did* you mean when you asserted that visual text is “charged with leading”? Of all the elements that go into videopoetry, why do you think visual text should be pre-eminent? Best, Nic

  5. A very interesting discussion. I’ve not been attracted to working with the text of the poem on the screen… though I did experiment with it earlier on. Found it incredibly difficult to do – but then, I want the screen to act as an artist’s canvas, and available fonts never quite work – I didn’t want the greeting card look… in one I used partial phrases from the poem that slid off the screen… or in another I hand wrote a short piece on an old Wacom tablet and placed that scrawl in the videopoem. I found making text an integrated element artistically in a videopoem very challenging.

    Though if a piece insisted on scrolling its text in a video, I would work with it. So I agree with Tom.

    Although now I make subtitle files -oh, text! thy appearance ever near. But that’s due to hassle I’ve received from people who want the text easily available and people whose mother tongue in not English.

    It’s probably the deepest question on the composition of videopoems. The text. Where it comes from – in the book format, and what it is becoming in the movie format.

    1. After reading this discussion I was inspired to try some text in a videopoem, which really has to be seen in a larger player at YouTube -I didn’t want to bury the video under the text. I’m happy with it visually, but it was way a lot of work editing the video of the text so that it fit pictorially with the video. Text has to work as a formal element in the video – I really don’t like to see text slotted in with the moving images without a great deal of thought and care for the whole. Then it’s sort of Hallmarky, to use one of Dave’s terms. PL

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