This entry was written in collaboration with the PO.EX. Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature.
Américo Rodrigues is a Portuguese poet, actor and vocal performer. He recorded five albums of sound poetry and, for the last two decades, among many other works in the domain of poetry, fiction, and drama, he was also responsible for a large number of vocal performances in Portugal and abroad.
“Visão Visual Vocal” [Visual Vocal Vision] is a performance of sound poetry by Rodrigues, performed live on 17 March 2006 at the Serralves' Museum Auditorium (Oporto, Portugal) in the context of the exhibition O caminho do leve = The way to lightness, by E. M. de Melo e Castro. Rodrigues' performance consists in the reading of ten visual poems written by Melo e Castro. One of these texts is a calligraphic one, “Escrita escrita” (“Writing writing”), published in “Caligrafias (1961-75)” [Caligraphies], a section of the book Visão Visual [Visual Vision] (Rio de Janeiro: Livraria Francisco Alves, 1994), and the remaining nine are mostly ideogrammatic texts. According to the date attributed by the author, five of these ideograms were written between 1961 and 1962 – “[Ver/ Não ler/ Ter]” [To see/ Not to read/ To have], “Broca” [Drill], “[Pêndulo]” [Pendulum], “[Tontura]” [Dizziness], “Geografia humana” [Human geography] – and the other four belong to the period between 1963 and 1968 – “[Amora/ aroma/ amor/ ar]” [Mulberry/ Aroma/ Love/ Air], “[S s z]”, “[Transparente / Explosão]” [Transparent / Explosion], “[x r o t]”. Therefore, the writing of these poems took place in the decade of the emergence and perfectioning of the Experimental Poetry Portuguese movement. Five of these texts were extracted from Ideogramas [Ideograms] (Lisboa: Guimarães Editores, 1962), the first book entirely devoted to concrete poetry published in Portugal.
In the process of reading and interpreting each of Melo e Castro's poems, Rodrigues develops in “Visão Visual Vocal” a new text from a text that is not specifically attached to a sound or to a group of sounds, but rather to a concept, an idea, or even a gesture, as in the case of calligraphic text. By doing so, Rodrigues substantiates the dynamic nature of text and language. In this process of remediation, the texts, originally conceived and written by Melo e Castro, are submitted to processes of re-codification by Rodrigues' unique and unrepeatable perspective, even though they are commanded by a system of objective rules. For example, “[Tontura]” consists in a visual repetition of the word “tontura” (“dizziness” in english) forming four concentric circles. How to read that? Where is the beginning and the end of the poem? Rodrigues does not read a mere sequence of words: “dizziness, dizziness, dizziness,” and so on. Instead, he provides the listener with the sensation of dizziness itself, through de repetition of the word and word's fragments and the change in frequency and amplitude of sound of his voice. What we hear is somehow irreproducible by the writing system.
Initially registered on paper, Melo e Castro's poems themselves bring forward some suggestions of reading movements. Their visual characteristics are appropriated by Rodrigues by means of intersemiotic translation: by using the visual poems as the surface of notation, it associates acoustic properties to the verbal and pictorial properties of Melo e Castro's poems. Thus, besides the non linear reading of the verbal elements, several other elements emerge as residue of verbality – illegible trace, cacographic verbal forms, and other signs/signals that show up as visual signifiers in Melo e Castro's texts – are produced as pre-verbal and post-verbal sounds in the oral text of Rodrigues.
Rodrigues' performance materializes itself through diverse processes that expressively explore the phonetic and phonological properties of language, with variations of intensity, changes in frequency and rhythm – all emerging as signifying elements in a soundscape where we also can find hesitations, stuttering, prolongations of speech, and even some gestures. The page thus serves as a notation surface that provides meta-instructions for an interpretation of poems that is always open to improvisation. Poems are understood as a surface for the topographical distribution of signs, without an entry or an exit door, a surface of iterative navigation that breaks down Western reading rules (left-right, top-bottom) with the vocal invasion of varied parts of text, diverse repetitions, and other deconstructions that replicate the non-linearity of Melo e Castro's texts.
The process of meaning in visual poetry doesn't begin only with the verbal and visual signifiers that figure in it. It also derives from the way in which those signifiers are organized in the space of page, as well as the different relationships they establish between themselves. Rodrigues' performance could be understood as an autonomous object, with a life of its own, but the fact that it has Melo e Castro's verbal texts as its basis is particular relevant, insofar as it brings something new to these texts: a movement of critical revision that brings a new life to each of Melo e Castro's texts, adding more to what we already know about them. Rodrigues is thus a “wreader” (writer becoming reader, reader becoming writer).
Because there is not a unique equivalent that guarantees a perfect correspondence between discourses with distinct materialities, even more in cases of radicalization of the properties of language (as is the case with visual and sound poetry), the performance set up with Melo e Castro’s poems is always one chosen road, one among the multiple possible paths and an infinity of potential readings. Being the performative object that it is, that path is always submitted to body idiosyncrasies, to space and time contingencies, to the ephemerality and unrepeatability of actions and speech acts.
The relationship between visuality and sonority is at the core of this reflection about the processes of meaning in language, constituting itself a tool for thinking the medium of inscription, the alleged stability of paper, and the ephemerality of orality. Related to this issue, there is the fact that Rodrigues' performance is available in the Po.Ex Digital Archive in video format. That is indeed the format that makes it possible a more reliable documentation of the event. But this medium has specific limitations, which make fruition a distinct experience when compared to a in loco fruition. To that we must add, of course, that this record crystallizes an event that, as said in the beginning, tries to have as the core of its action and reflection, the dynamic nature of text and language.