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Ursonography

2005 | Jaap Blonk and Golan Levin

Ursonography

Ursonography (2005: Jaap Blonk and Golan Levin) is a new audiovisual interpretation of Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate, a masterpiece of 20th Century concrete poetry in which speech is reduced to its most abstract and musical elements. Dutch sound poet and virtuoso vocalist Jaap Blonk has performed the half-hour Ursonate more than a thousand times; in this presentation, Blonk’s performance is augmented with a modest but elegant new form of expressive, real-time, “intelligent subtitles.” With the help of computer-based speech recognition and score-following technologies, projected subtitles are tightly locked to the timing and timbre of Blonk’s voice, and brought forth with a variety of dynamic typographic transformations that reveal new dimensions of the poem’s structure.

[Italiano] In Ursonography Jaap Blonk e Golan Levin ripropongono una interpretazione audio e visuale della Ursonate (1922-1932) di Kurt Schwitters, un capolavoro di poesia concreta del XX secolo nel quale il linguaggio viene ridotto ai suoi elementi più astratti e musicali. Poeta sonoro e virtuoso vocalist olandese, Jaap Blonk ha eseguito la quasi mezz’ora della Ursonate ormai più di mille volte. In questa versione l’esecuzione di Blonk viene arricchita di una nuova forma espressiva semplice ma elegante, i "sottotitoli intelligenti" in tempo reale prodotti con l’ausilio di una tecnologia legata alla partitura basata su un riconoscitore vocale computerizzato. I sottotitoli proiettati sono strettamente legati al tempo e al timbro della voce di Blonk, e presentati in una varietà di trasformazioni tipografiche dinamiche che rivelano nuove dimensioni della sua struttura poetica.


Ursonography was commissioned by the 2005 Ars Electronica Festival; developed with the support of a residency at the Ars Electronica Futurelab; and has been performed at: Ars Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria, 9/4/2005; Ultrasound Festival, Huddersfield, England, 11/2005; The game is up! Festival, Vooruit, Gent, Belgium, 2/16/2007; and Artefact Festival, STUK Kunstencentrum, Leuven, Belgium, 2/18/2007. Video documentation of the Ursonography performance has also been screened at: Digital Transit: Austria at ARCO, Madrid, Spain, 2/2006; The WSOA Digital Soiree, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2/2006; NetCultureSpace, Vienna, 7/2008; and Il Gesto Del Suono, Bolzano, 6/2009.



The following 6'15" video at YouTube and Vimeo shows excerpts of the Ursonography performance from its premiere at the Ars Electronica Festival, September 2005 in Linz. The same video can be downloaded in better quality at the bottom of this page. It is essential to note that the poem's text was not added in post-production of this video: all dynamic typography in this concert was generated automatically, in real-time during the live performance, using custom software that responded to the timing and dynamics of Blonk's speech. Close synchronization of the text with the performer's voice was achieved by linking a score follower to a real-time syllable detector.


The 7'34" video below (also available at Vimeo and YouTube) presents excerpts from a different performance of Ursonography, at the Artefact Festival in Leuven, Belgium on 18 February, 2007:


Complete (half-hour) documentation videos of this performance are viewable and downloadable from Vimeo for two performance dates:


Additional Resources

Acknowledgements. The artists are indebted to Gerfried Stocker of the Ars Electronica Center, and Horst Hörtner of the Ars Electronica Futurelab, Linz, for commissioning, supporting and hosting the development of this performance project. We thank Tom Holley of the Ultrasound Festival, and Pieter-Paul Mortier of the Artefact Festival, for hosting the performance in Huddersfield and Leuven. We also express our gratitude to Andrew Wilson (Wil) Howitt, for his critically informative PhD thesis, "Automatic Syllable Detection for Vowel Landmarks", and to Dr. Isabel Schulz of the Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Stiftung, Sprengel Museum Hannover, for her kind permissions to allow reproduction of our performance of Schwitters' poem. The software for Ursonography was developed in openFrameworks. Documentation video of the Leuven concert was edited by Michael Pisano. The Ursonography performance is typeset in Sabon (1964), by Jan Tschichold, an updated version of the typeface which Tschichold used to design the original printing of Schwitters' Ursonate in 1932.

Project Keywords: Audiovisual performance, Ursonate, Kurt Schwitters, Jaap Blonk, Golan Levin, live cinema, live typography, dynamic typography, computational typography, expressive type, real-time subtitles, interactive text, conrete poetry, computer graphics, software art, computer vision, machine vision, speech visualization, speech recognition, voice analysis, prosodics.

High-resolution images of Ursonography are available in this Flickr photoset.

Images (click to enlarge)

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Video
<i>Ursonography</i> Introduction
Ursonography Introduction (10.03 MB)
Explanatory overview only
[720x480, .mp4, 0'43''; right-click to download]
<i>Ursonography Excerpts</i>, 2005
Ursonography Excerpts, 2005 (293.56 MB)
Highlights from Ars Electronica premiere [720x576, .mov, 6'15'']
<i>Ursonography</i> Performance, 2005
Ursonography Performance, 2005 (101.07 MB)
Complete Ars Electronica premiere, 4 September 2005
[480x384, .mp4, 22'10''; right-click to download]
<i>Ursonography Excerpts</i> (Short), 2005
Ursonography Excerpts (Short), 2005 (65.79 MB)
Highlights from Ars Electronica premiere [720x576, .mov, 1'23'']