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david antin–tuning


when roys daughter died we held a memorial at the center for music

experiment     the memorial readings and performances by poets and artists

and musicians     was an attempt to offer some fellowship to roy and marie

who were in a state of shock over the terrible accident     it was held in the

late afternoon in the long somber wooden shed that had once housed a marine

officers bowling alley     been refurbished with a black ceiling much redwood

stripping and a mauve carpet to serve as the university art gallery and then

turned over to the music department in the middle seventies     the readings

proceeded quietly one after another without interruption for long introductions

and the last piece on the program was a composition by pauline oliveras

pauline was working with a small performance group at the time and its

young men and women were scattered informally around the room     pauline

came to the center of the gallery to tell us how to perform the piece     we were

all to rise and form a large single circle joining hands with our nearest

neighbors     to listen until we heard a tone we felt like tuning to     to try to tune to it and when we were satisfied with our tuning     we could fall silent and

listen     choose another tone and try to tune to it     and go on like this  listening and tuning and falling silent as long as we wished until we felt that we

were through     i was holding hands with a carefully dressed young history

professor and a smart looking dark haired woman from a travel agency in la jolla

i listened for a while and could make out several humming tones coming

from various places about the room     i could hear the history professor clear

his throat and start to hum a tone in the middle of the baritone register     i

thought i would join him there and my partner on the left opened a lovely mezzo just above us     around the room soft surges of sound floated up

while others stayed suspended or died away to be succeeded by still others in

fifths  and octaves lightly spiked by onsets and decays that underlined the

simple harmonies that filled the space     at one point a high clear soprano tone

floated out across the room and  i  saw the history professor start to cry     i

squeezed his hand and tried to join a high tenor almost beyond my range     the

history professor nodded and joined us there     our dark haired neighbor to the

left opened a flute like tone a fifth above us     all around the room people were

crying and smiling and singing in waves of sound that throbbed and swelled and

ebbed and climbed and ebbed and peaked and dropped away into a silence that

lasted until pauline thanked everyone because the piece was over


david antin

from tuning, 1984

for margento’s poetries & communities project


David Antin has published over ten books of poetry, including the talk-poem books Talking and Talking at the Boundaries along with other texts: a novel, an autobiography, and a conversation with Charles Bernstein.  His book of essays, Radical Coherence: Selected Essays on Art and Literature (2011) collects over forty years of looking at, and thinking about, innovative art.

He has received numerous honors and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He received the PEN Los Angeles Award for Poetry in 1984.

How Long Is the Present: Selected Talk Poems, edited by Stephen Fredman & scheduled for publication by the University of New Mexico Press in 2014.

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