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“Beyond Poet Voice: Contemporary Poetry Audio, Performance and Culture Analytics”
Contemporary poetry has undergone a remarkable shift, or return, to performance and orality, which invites computational and linguistic analysis of the corresponding audio archive. More and more audio recordings of poetry readings are available in digital form on sites like PennSound (5,000 hours alone), the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Foundation, and SoundCloud (which often links with the Academy), not to mention the proliferation of poetry reading videos on sites such as YouTube. In literary studies, and in a steady stream of polemics by poets about poetry readings and performance styles, scholars and poets frequently opine about acoustic features of poetry performance—which include pitch (the fundamental frequency of the human voice, as measured in hertz) and pitch range, intonation patterns, volume/intensity, speaking rate, tempo, rhythm, emphasis, and vocal timbre. This workshop will share new research analyzing and comparing the performance styles of 80 contemporary American poets and 20 conversational speakers, using pitch and speaking rate data and sound visualization. This research engages with cultural questions of expressivity, sometimes related to gender, ethnicity, class, religious affiliation, historical period, geographic region, venue, and audience, and connects poetry performance with trends in religious and political rhetoric, comedy and acting. A primary goal of the workshop is to acquaint researchers with simple vocal analysis and manipulation tools, and to discuss and explore their potential and limitations for humanistic research on the audio archive.
Marit MacArthur is associate professor of English at California State University, Bakersfield, and a research associate in Cinema and Digital Media at the University of California, Davis. Her current research on performative speech lies at the intersection of literary, performance and voice studies. In 2015-16, as an ACLS Digital Innovations Fellow with the ModLab and the Digital Scholarship Lab at UC Davis, she worked with linguist Georgia Zellou and audio interface designers and programmers Robert Ochshorn and Max Hawkins to support the development of new open-source vocal analysis tools. Her article, "Monotony, the Churches of Poetry Reading, and Sound Studies" appeared in PMLA in January 2016.
Lee M. Miller, who will introduce MacArthur, is associate professor of of Neurobiology, Physiology, & Behavior at the University of California, Davis, and technical director of the Center for Mind and Brain. His research focuses on auditory neuroscience and speech recognition, and he collaborates with MacArthur in the application of vocal analysis and manipulation tools to recordings of performative speech.