Songs For Spoken Words Development 1 – Soundcloud Demo

Posted on Sep 19, 2014 in Songs For Spoken Words


Here’s something I made two years ago. It was the start of something that’s dominated my mind and work for most of this year, and will be released and performed early 2015 with support from an Arts Council/National Lottery Grants for the Arts Award.

A Brief History

There was a poet in Derby called Michael Frearson. He was really good. Accessible, heartbreaking. And he performed too. His performances were less like ‘performance poetry’ and more like watching a great singer pour their heart out, except just with speech. He’d make you laugh and cry, but when he wasn’t doing that you’d be happy just to listen to the way he could string a sentence together.


He asked me to get involved- to write/improvise some acoustic guitar over the pieces for his first collection of poems that would come with a CD of him performing them. He also asked Time Travel Opps to help him make it and put it out. We did, and the collection sold out on the launch night, pretty much.

Following that, whenever Michael was asked to perform somewhere, he’d drag me and my guitar along too. Those performances were great, and I wish we still did them. But Michael moved away to the mountains of Nepal and never performed again.


The Music Without The Michael

The recorded pieces would often get in my head, and I remember one day waiting for a connecting train at Luton Airport Parkway (staring at the cooling towers) and humming a violin part for one of the poems that was in my head. The one called ‘Goodbye’.

It didn’t stop there, and I knew before the train arrived that I wanted to make an EP called ‘Songs For Spoken Words’, where I soundtracked the poems cinematically, like films, so that they’d work without an accompanying spoken word performance.

But there was this parallel thought about how to link the two together – so that the poems and the ‘soundtracks’ could be put together by someone who had never seen Michael perform, someone who hated poetry (especially performance poetry). To have a lyric sheet for an instrumental EP was a basic idea. To use the internet to do it was more exciting. Enter Soundcloud.

(not sure how this will work on mobile, sorry mobile users)

The idea: to see if I could use Soundcloud comments as a kind of sub-titling to an instrumental track.

I uploaded a recording of the poem ‘Goodbye’ that Michael and I had made for his second collection of poetry. I started entering the words he was speaking into the comments box at the right point in the track.

Almost straight away, the limitations became obvious:

- I couldn’t get the timings bang on
- A single comment only appears for 2 seconds
- You can only really put comments 2 seconds apart
- Even if you manage to squeeze another comment in before 2 seconds has passed since the last, it won’t show as the last one will still be there.
- You can’t enter comments, then switch comments off (and have the existing comments still showing) – so if other users commented on the track then the ‘subtitles’ would get lost.

But the experiment showed me that subtitling a piece of music could be an interesting thing. Using my imagination, if the music was instrumental and words appeared before me, my inner voice (on further research this year this is called ‘subvocalisation’) would put them to the music.

I just needed to find a way to do this outside of Soundcloud.

(…to be continued)

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