alerts is an on-going section of this publication set aside for informal commentary and information on new or neglected books by women poets continuing the modernist/innovative tradition. We intentionally think of these comments as not complete in the scholarly sense, with the hope of removing prohibitions linked with thinking/writing critically. Your response is invited.
Smoky pub or ratty punk club, bare urban art space, austere Connecticut chapel, storefront gallery, rare book library, small private college, mid-western arts complex, or dry, dry, electronic music studio. What can be variable, mercurial, chameleon-like, flexible enough to work with/in all these diverse contexts? My experiments in sound, performance, music--solo with tapes or with a full drummer and five- or six-person band, with cello and accordian or romantic-modernist piano, or with synthesizer and avant-garde "prepared" guitar--were a sort of changing cabaret act that grew out of my work with/as IXNA. Jay Cloidt and I met at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, and began working together in the recording studio in 1979. Our first song was in the 19th century Utopian language called Esperanto; the second, "Ixna Portal Exo," was in a language I invented, and gave rise to our name, Ixna.
For years I had been interested in traditional musics from all over the world. (influential on composers of contemporary avant-garde or experimental music: Riley, Glass, Reich, and through them filtered into more commercial musics via Iggy Pop, Bowie, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, Eno.) Also I had been listening to amalgam musics (Caribbean, South African) and current popular musics of cultures very different from ours (southeast Asia or the Middle East). Thus Ixna was proposed as a popular or folk music, and meant to express the irony of my view of life as I experience it. Ixna music was not primarily intended as a product made by someone quite separate from those who consume it (as is the case with top-forty, mass media, heavy metal, country/western and other am-radio fare) but rather as music that could be enjoyed by a wider audience than our personal friends, that could be played at a party, but might just as well be listened to in a similar way to how one listens to classical music.
The eclectic lyrics, context-dependent, literary, were rooted in the sensual properties of human vocalization, linguistically madcap, often satiric or comic in intent yet at the same time quite sincere in exploring certain aspects of human cognition. As I went on to work with other performers in LA and NY in various styles and contexts, what always interested me most was operating at a boundary--between pop song and classical/avant-garde tradition, music and poetry, speaking and singing, between and, on the part of the audience, between fantasy and comprehension.
Reviews said: "Just listen to her voice . . . she can stretch it, bend it, make it squeal & screech around syllables . . . or she can sing it sweet & simple." And " . . . a talent for writing elegant, brittle songs with an international flavor. Her wiry physical presence, accented by her carrot-colored hair, somehow matched the lean, quirky melodies & eccentric delivery." One national literary publication labelled the poetry "punk & pride, head shop sleaze," & faulted the writing for "breaking expectations!" "LaPalma sings, warbles, whispers, purrs, shrieks, and growls." " . . . like Anouk Aimée cleaning out a closet," according to a catalog.
Well, I have had to give up performing in that way, though I'm still doing readings and radio shows. A most difficult decision, taken in 1986, due to health problems, lack of money, exhaustion, the stress & pain of trying to make art instead of product in a consumer society.
Currently my writing, divided among art criticism, research & cataloging of rare books, further divided by teaching, and hovering in the not-time for a novel I have outlined and begun. In the continuation vein of the above: I'm working on texts that function with collaged backgrounds mostly composed of radio signals. These tapes scan the hyperbolic range of music/noise available to us as citizens of global culture. The vocal delivery floats and rides on the music like an ancient ritual, contemplates and comprehends its patterns--or perhaps those patterns are echoes of the archaic imprint of speech on all music.
--Marina laPalma lives in Los Angeles, California.