Poetry and music have always been closely connected, and I’ve been playing around a bit with setting poetry to electronic music, especially canonical works that incorporate rhyme or rhythm in a way that offer themselves as being more friendly to the definition of “song” in a pop sense.
The finished product, Alphabet Loops, is a constraint-driven experiment infuenced by the French movement known as “Oulipo,” which seeks to create works of art while operating under self-enforced constraints (like writing an entire novel and not using the letter “e”).
How does that work in this playlist/album?
1. This playlist consists of 26 songs, one for each letter of the English alphabet
2.. All songs were made in GarageBand; therefore, each song could only use loops that started with the same, single letter of the alphabet. For example, “Susie Asado” only uses loops whose name begin with the letter “Q.” The loops for “Cut” could only use loops that begin with the letter “c.” Etc.
3. One exception: there are no loops in GarageBand that begin with the letter “x.” To accommodate the letter “x,” which is the poem “She Had Some Horses” by Joy Harjo, I selected loops where the first or second word of the loop name included the letter “x,” for example “Vortex Beat.” I did not count common GarageBand designations such as “mix,” “vox,” or “FX” as available for use. The “x” had to be present in an uncommon word in the loop title.
4. Each song had to use the words of a published poem for its lyrics. In almost all cases, I selected poems and/or poets that would be immediately recognizable (or canonical) by most people familiar with western poetry. And just because I created this playlist, I used one of my own poems, “Liketown,” which only uses loops that start with “a.”
5. All of the voices in the songs had to be created by AI (artificial intelligence/algorithms)and be alterable (pitch, speed, style, etc.). All of the voices in the songs were created using murf.ai. Note: There are four exceptions where I used original audio of the poet reading, as they are electronic versions of analog audio recordings–Sylvia Plath, Gwendolyn Brooks, Adrienne Rich, and Lucille Clifton. Also, their voices were too good and musical not to use. (Check out Lucille Clifton!)
6. The artwork for each song had to be generated by an AI image maker. The image for each song was produced by Midjourney, where I used the full (of sometimes partial) text of each poem as the prompt to generate the images. Note: The image that represents the playlist as a whole was generated in Midjourney using lines from Eliot’s “Prufrock,” specifically, “I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” Why the algorithm produced this particular image, I do not know.
7. Some of the songs also deviate from the additional text. Any deviations (other than song choruses) were generated by AI (I used WriteSonic AI Writer). In these instances, I entered the beginnings of the original poems (including my own)and asked WriteSonic to generate the rest. The best, and most easily recognizable example is Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
8. The playlist had to be spread out as evenly as possible in terms of “beats per minute.” There is one song in the 70’s range, as well as one topping 130, and those single songs are the margins of where I am comfortable. The breakdown for this playlist’s bpm is:
71-79 bpm: 1 poem
80-89 bpm: 4 poems
90-99 bpm: 5 poems
100-110 bpm: 5 poems
111-119 bpm: 6 poems
120-129 bpm: 4 poems
130-139: 1 poem
9. Because I did all of this on my laptop, the playlist is alphabetically organized by the left to right order designated by the “qwerty” keyboard.
So there you have it. A weird, musical experiment that was meant to set poety to music, operate under constraint as a condition of creation, and to produce in each instance some form of human and AI collaboration. A lot of beauty in the world in produced under constraint, so I thought I would honor that mode of creation. I have no idea why I felt compelled to do this.
There will be some poems on here you recognize pretty easily: “Prufrock,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and “We Real Cool.” But there are some others, like “Cut” by Sylvia Plath which might be new to some people. Well, if you are having a party, here is some poetry to dance to.
I am officially taking requests, so now is your chance! Just reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and suggest a poem that needs a little more bass. If you prefer to go directly to Soundcoud, boom: https://on.soundcloud.com/9tUp5. Also, all feedback is welcome!
Finally, whatever this project “means,” it is dedicated to Doug Jankowski. Do not go gentle, my friend.
Tap your feet and enjoy.
The below playlist, Poetry You Can Dance To, is largely the same as the above, but with a different order and additional songs whose loops must include full words like “heart” or “work.”