Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.

Feedback: "Contemporary Voices in the Arts"

"Contemporary Voices in the Arts"

The whole thing began characteristically enough.[*] I'd got to the Mohawk terminal at La Guardia, and met the others—Billy Kluver, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Stan Vanderbeek, Jack Tworkov, and Len Lye. Some were hungry, so went off to find something to eat quickly, leaving Len, myself, and a young friend of Stan's to find some place to be comfortable till the plane was ready to go. Len led us into a rather formal restaurant where a waitress immediately gave us large menus and waited for our orders. We simply wanted to talk and so Len with a lovely avoidance kept the whole scene in confusion. We sat there with all this function around us somehow unable to catch up with the fact we were not really there to have dinner or to do anything but that which we were obviously doing.

There is a lag in the situation of the eye's response to projected film image, for example, which Stan reported as about one-tenth of a second, that lets the eye see a continuous image rather than the literal fact of the static frame-by-frame that is the case. Just so in the proposal of the restaurant, the assumption of a necessary order let the three of us use it in quite another manner, and we were thus able to enjoy the lag of their adjustment to the fact that we were there to do nothing more than sit comfortably and talk.

At one point—at Albany State—Billy and John were continuing a conversation with students that had started in an almost impos-

Arts Magazine , Summer 1967.

* Early in 1967 a group of seven artists toured several universities in New York State as part of the New York State Council on the Arts program "Contemporary Voices in the Arts."


sibly dead ballroom, just that no one could hear anything said even a few feet from them, and now we were all sitting in an anonymous classroom. John had been speaking of what he felt to be the necessity of testing all assumptions of cause and effect. As answer to a student who asked him how that might be done, he said, simply try to make use of any situation in a way that the assumptions proposing it have not dealt with. If you get a grant, say, proposing you study cloud formations, see if you can use it for a trip to Europe, or whatever might interest you in that sense specifically.

We were an odd company without question. Often I felt an awkward distance in my own occasion from that which was clearly the possibility of the others, and I envied the articulation and particularity of Stan's nonverbal 'language.' Reading poems, as I'd known it, with the discreet placement of the audience, the fixed focus, the single term of the reader's voice and image, all seemed to make an impossibly static circumstance. Consequently I never made use of it during any of the eight evenings we had together. Instead I tried to project voice into the simultaneity of the multiple occurrences much as Stan was in fact doing with his battery of projectors and view-o-graphs. I was very curious to discover what kinds of hearing were actual in such a multiplicity of event. When some people at Union said they hadn't been able to hear anything back of the first few rows, I couldn't really care, just that I'd heard, as I knew those first few rows had, a fantastic blast of sound into which entered images of voices as actual as William Carlos Williams saying, in a suddenly vacant quiet, "Be patient that I address you in a poem . . ." to be bumped abruptly by whatever it was did then occur. The world of my own head, selfishly enough, was changing significantly.

Since there were seven of us, and, in the two weeks of the tour, seven places to be visited, we decided that each one of us in turn would take an evening. He could, if he chose, make use of the others as he saw fit. Since Harpur had an active dance program, Merce was given direction of that evening, and the rest of us were placed at various points on the stage, which was segmented in at least five sections, all of which could be raised or lowered independently. David Vaughan, the tour manager, was back of the stage operating the control panel without being able to see us, so that we went up and down with a lovely randomness. Back of us Merce drew the form of the space into a sequence of extraordinary articulations. There were various microphones placed about which we could use as we wished, either to note senses of dance or to say whatever we wished. Billy read a quietly didactic sequence of pro-


posals with an icy blue-white spot on him. Len, always impatient with any located place, was walking around somewhat like a carnival barker, trying to get hold of the audience directly and admonishing them to admit the fact of their own feelings. I felt like Gagarin, saying something like, I'm a bird, I'm a bird! John was making great gnomic sense, but Jack was somehow most articulate of all. He sat there, saying literally nothing, as the section of stage under him raised and lowered the chair he was sitting in, as Stan's images floated all around him and off the walls and ceilings surrounding. The intensity of his attention to the newness of this experience was so evident it became more than any of us could say.

Immediately when we had first met, we decided any formal panel procedure would be specious. As John said, if we began by talking about where we thought the arts were going, then we'd be stuck with where we thought they had come from—and that was patently an endless dialogue. In the discussions that did often follow the specific activities of the evenings, there were inevitably both faculty and students who felt themselves defrauded by our conduct. I remember one professor in particular at R.P.I. who said he felt us pathetic, coming as we did with what were acceptably defined abilities in the various arts he assumed us to represent, to engage an audience in what he could only recognize as a primitive randomness. John answered him sharply, pointing out that he was imposing a decision of taste and habit upon a situation that was literally a process of exploration. There were no assumptions there to be insisted upon other than the one which might feel possibility to be more interesting than the limits of habit.

Much that was said continues to be very active for me. For example, in an afternoon conversation with students, John said: "Distinguish between that 'old' music you speak of which has to do with conceptions and their communication , and this new music, which has to do with perception and the arousing of it in us. You don't have to fear from this new music that something is bad about your liking your own music."

He made use of a simple diagram on the board: conceptions/fixed—perceptions/fluid. He suggested: Likes and dislikes are associated with the ego not on its dream side but on its daytime side in connection with what it receives through the senses. Now if you divide your sense perceptions into what you like and dislike, you might just be cheating yourself. As far as we know for sure, you're only alive once. Your sense perceptions are in good working


order. They will not necessarily remain in good working order. Beethoven, for instance, growing deaf . . . While your ears are in good working order, and while your eyes are in good working order, it seems to me that you would want, rather than shutting your eyes and ears to available experience, rather to open them . . .

Stan put frequent emphasis on the very evident fact of process as condition of contemporary environment, noting that colleges and universities, as airports, were always being built, rarely completed. Again, it was in the exploration of this situation that we found a common vocabulary. Billy Kluver made a unique contribution to the company in that, being an engineer, process is an unequivocal attention for him, happily apart from a conceptual 'aesthetics.' At R.P.I. he and Robbie Robinson, another engineer from Bell who had participated in the "Nine Evenings," created a sound system that permitted the audience to tune FM radios to particular 'broadcasts' of live activity, so that one had 'campfire' situations of various groups in the audience so tuned in as all the other activity went on around them. He had wanted a kind of trade fair environment, with each of us in 'booth' locations that the audience might move freely around, again tuning in what interested them. But once there, the limits of the equipment and the auditorium, with its fixed seats, which he had to work with, caused a modification—proving again that what happens is more relevant than what doesn't.

Toward the end a kind of feedback gained in the continuity began to be a problem, I felt. Inevitably we gained a sophistication in dealing with the kinds of questions we were asked. Yet the habits, in that sense, of the audience were the most continual limit. It is interesting to remember how the idea of the last evening, the "TV Dinner" eaten literally at the Y in New York, came about. We were in Albany, having dinner, guests of Mr. Hightower, and Jack said, why don't we do this—and immediately John was thinking of contact mikes, Stan of the possibility of closed circuit TV, Billy of the obvious engineering problems, and Len of his lovely fish. When the actual evening came, I found I'd learned one very useful thing—to trust the fact of any literal condition I am in. But the fairly discreet rage of the audience—neither students nor faculty this time, and very sophisticated indeed as to its judgments—was something else, and the screaming feedback, and the projected pleasure of that meal and ourselves eating it, seems to have met with active qualifications.

I don't think I've ever eaten a better piece of meat, and the com-


pany was especially pleasant. There was a very happy air of being together again. At one point apparently the Y's stage manager came up to Robinson and said, "You've got to do something, the crowd is getting very restless." Robinson continued with his own preoccupations. They were literally more interesting.


Feedback: "Contemporary Voices in the Arts"

Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.