Ulf Nygren in Helsinki in June 1985

Sound Poetry – the most exclusive of exclusive art forms – has through the decades been belched out of a number of exceptional, tobacco saturated organs of speech, who have been slurping and chewing the phonetic candies of language, spitting them out in cascades of consonant staccatos and pleasure-seeking vocal eroticisms. We only need to recall Raoul Hausmann and his “Poèmes Phonetiques” or the somewhat later François Dufrêne and his “Oeuvre Désintégrale”. The contemporary sound poet who has administered and developed this intensely talkative variant of Sound Poetry is without the shadow of a doubt Jaap Blonk from Amsterdam!

The front figure per preference of Sound Poetry – I don’t think too many will negate that – is Kurt Schwitters, who, starting off from two phonetic poems by Raoul Hausmann – so called
Plakatgedichte; one beginning with the “word” fmsbwtözäu – during the years from 1921 to 1932 wrote the basic classical example of Sound Poetry; “Ursonate – Sonate in Urlauten” – which had a ground-breaking importance for the final liberation of the sound of speech from language! Like a noisy flock of jackdaws flying up out of the trees of the city parks, spreading out over ploughed fields outside the city gates saturated with delicious earthworms, the sounds of speech are at long last as free as they once were in the oral cavities of infants prattling, only now elevated by the life experiences of aging men.

Ulf Nygren, writer and poet from Oxelösund and Stockholm in Sweden, has written about the foundation stones of the sounds of speech in his poem “
Consonants – for Rimbaud” (1991) (freely translated from the Swedish original):

I look for Vocals tonight
Vocals from the inner bass drum
Which rumbles out Os, As and Es
Which makes language bounce off
Instead of standing guard in the street corners

The Vocals are dragging themselves through the nights
I have seen them – one by one – heading home
In need of support from the Consonants
The crutches and shapers of exclamations

Like jelly fish in magic moonlit nights
They walk hand in hand through soiled back-alleys
Yawn and drag themselves ahead
As if intoxicated, in need of a yearlong sleep

Cautiously I follow
And sneak upon the remarkable beings
Who yawn Os and As
Who look like murderers, deceitfully prowling,
Leaving slime behind on the sidewalks

What shall I tell them, these insidiously luminous Vocals
Who can hardly walk, without the support of Consonants?

I hear police sirens, and hurry up the fire escape
Toward one of the roofs
See how they're seized and ordered up against the wall
Approached for IDs
Impersonal, nameless and confused
They stand erect in the night
With the stern officers of the Law facing them

That is probably the way it’s been! The language cops have been many, but I suppose most of them have slipped away under the dried leaves of the annals by now. The globalization and the migration, i.e. the melting pot of the tongues, has broken down rigid patterns and given us (in Sweden) phenomena like the Rinkeby Swedish; Dogge’s and the Latin Kings’ rapping rhymes - in a constant, quick and clever synthesizing of words, expressions, sounds from all over the world; an imploding Babylon! Thesis – Antithesis – Synthesis! Hegel’s old schedules still hold up, in the accelerating tempo of linguistic evolution! Patterns are broken down, crunched – and new patterns are forming, in turn being broken down. It is fun to shoot the breeze, fun to jive, fun to talk, fun to rap, fun to taste the nuances of the sounds of language in the candy store of linguistics!

The aphasia – wherein the sounds of language loose their meaning – is grand scare for all the craftsmen of speech, but Sound Poetry is aiming at washing the sticking meanings off the words. This can be achieved by one and all simply by repeating the same word over and over. After a while the meaning is gone, and only the sound in its original luster is left. Try it! It is a fascinating experience – like waking up in the middle of the night and not remembering who you are for a couple of seconds.

Sound Poetry as an art form might origin in the need for a kind of psychoanalytic regression into pre-language, base-biological, pre-conscious sound experiences down in the soil out of which language and its flashing, glistening symbolism grow, only to, for the most part, stiffen in habits and conventions. Sound Poetry may therefore, maybe, serve as a cleansing process, a proper swabbing of the deck, a proper airing out of aged trains of thought that clogs up the air vents and ventilation shafts of the catacombs of the subconscious.

Kurt Schwitters was born in Hanover, Germany in 1887. He studies at the Academy of Arts and the Institute for Technology. He was expelled by the Berlin Dadaists, but founded his own Dada group in Hanover, and named it Merz. He worked in many artistic disciplines. He painted, constructed collages and objects, wrote poems, sound poems and plays that he published in his own magazine, which also was titled
Merz. In 1937 Schwitters fled the Nazis and their somewhat limited opinion on art, probably referring Schwitters et Consortes to the Entartete Kunst. He ended up in Norway, later to move to England, where he died in 1948.

Kurt Schwitters photographed by his son Ernst
in London 1944

Ursonate” has a structure reminiscent of a classical sonata. It is divided into four parts; “Erster Teil”, “Largo”, “Scherzo” and “Presto”. After the short presentation at the beginning the first movement opens up in an exposition of the four main themes, later developing to a coda. The “Largo” and the “Scherzo” have a centered construction, wherein the middle section is contrasted against identical outer parts. The “Presto” sports a violent rhythm, only interrupted by a few insertions from the first movements. In the successive “Cadenza” the interpreter is free to shape his own version or follow the notated one. Schwitters uses one of his oldest Dada poems for the “Coda”; the alphabet backwards, repeated trice. Schwitters engaged the Swiss typographer Jan Tschichold for the graphic layout of the Sound Poetry score, which Schwitters called “Schriftraum”.

There exists a small number of recordings of Kurt Schwitters’ “
Ursonate – Sonate in Urlauten”. Wergo Schallplatten in Mainz, Germany, released a CD 1993 of the then sensationally rediscovered version that Schwitters himself recorded on 78 RPMs acetates in the 1930s! Jack Ox explains in the CD booklet how he had been searching a long time for a recording of “Ursonate” to incorporate in his own art, when his friend, the electronic music composer Michael Waisvisz, just sort of under his breath causally mentioned that he had in his possession a tape copy of Kurt Schwitters’ own recording! He had received the copy from hid friend, electronic music composer etcetera, Dick Raaijmakers in Holland. Without the knowledge of the expertise a copy with Schwitters’ recording had haphazardly been preserved, by people who didn’t at all realize the unique value of the tape. This recording is a wonderfully unique specimen. Schwitters’ son said in 1992: “…By now, the almost incredible, the miracle has happened: Today I collected the tape of the Ursonate at then post office. And indeed, it is an original recording – probably the only one – by my father himself in exactly the same way as I still know it…”

However, this information above about a recording of theUrsonate by Kurt Schwitters is false. It is in fact his son Ernst's recording that Wergo has, and it was made in the late 1950s. Wergo still has not aknowledged this.

Hat Hut Records has released a recording of “Ursonate” on its label Hat Art Now Series, with the knowledgeable artist Eberhard Blum, who may be better known for his participation on the many Hat Art discs with the music of Morton Feldman and John Cage. This recording was released in 1992, and constitutes a brilliant interpretation of modern audio quality, which is a well-deserved contrast after listening through Kurt Schwitters’ recording, albeit the CEDAR cleaning… Blum’s interpretation – one must admit – is also “musically” considerably “better” than Schwitters’ recording, which must be considered a unique and valuable document, but not much else. The Hat Art CD also offers, as a bonus, three additional tracks with sound poems by Kurt Schwitters: “The Real Disuda of the Nightmare” (1946), “Ribble Bobble Pimlico” (1946) and “Ri Ribble” (1945 – 1947).

The by far best recording of Kurt Schwitters’ “
Ursonate – Sonate in Urlauten” was hithertho very hard to come by, since Schwitters’ Norwegian son Ernst on unfathomable grounds had forbidden it! We’re talking about Jaap Blonk’s ultimate recording on a Bvhaast vinyl in 1986. Blonk (1953) from Holland began his performance career early, with intense performances of works by, among others, Antonin Artaud and Kurt Schwitters. He had first heard Hans Hausdörfer perform “Ursonate” in 1979, and the years after he studied and learned “Ursonate” piece by piece, day by day, week by week, and he practiced by performing the piece in unlikely places, like forest meadows, railway stations, super markets, street corners and so on, until “Ursonate” became a second nature to Jaap Blonk. Then it was time to record it for Bvhaast Records. This sensational, and most likely never to be surpassed recording, was withdrawn on order from Ernst Schwitters! Only a few copies of the vinyl reached circulation. Nowadays, luckily, this sensational recording can be obtained from Basta Records:

Jaap Blonk
(Photo: Gudrun Edel-Rösnes)


WERGO CD 6304-2 (1993): Ernst Schwitters’ own recording of “Ursonate – Sonate in Urlauten”, recorded some time in the late 1950s.

HAT ART CD 6109 (1992): Eberhard Blum’s recording of Kurt Schwitters’ “Ursonate – Sonate in Urlauten” plus three other sound poems by Schwitters.

BVHAAST LP 063 (1986): Jaap Blonk’s recording of Kurt Schwitters’ “Ursonate – Sonate in Urlauten” – unfortunately withdrawn and forbidden… Unofficial home burnt CD transfers are in circulation, but without the co-operation of Jaap Blonk, who has to obey the prohibition put forth by Kurt Schwitters’ Norwegian son Ernst

A sample of Jaap Blonk’s legal sound poetry output:

STAALPLAAT stcd 046 (1993): “Fluxe de Bouche”.

POEZIE PERDU 4 (1993) CD and book.

STAALPLAAT stcd 112 (1998): “Vocalor”.

+ of course, Jaap Blonk's fine recording on BASTA.

And then there is a private recording from Jaap Blonk’s performance at Fylkingen in Stockholm, Sweden on 14th September 1998, simply titled “
Jaap Blonk at Fylkingen 14 September 1998”. This is the only CD of a complete sound poetry performance with Jaap Blonk, where the sounds of the audience, laughter and applause are included. This is a home burned issue, circulated in an extremely limited number among real sound poetry aficionados. The first one to receive a copy from the bootleggers was of course Jaap Blonk himself!
These five Jaap Blonk phonograms are pure sound poetry releases. He has issued several other CDs, but those lean more towards improvisation or jazz, and are collaborative efforts with other musicians.

CD recorded at Fylkingen 1998
(Photo: Hans Åke Runell)

More recordings:

Poèmes Phonetiques”. On this CD without any identification number from Musée Départemental d’Art Contemporain de Rochechouart are - for the first time on compact disc – Raoul Hausmann’s sound poetry presented. As indicated above, Raoul Hausmann’s early efforts inspired Kurt Schwitters’ composing of “Ursonate – Sonate in Urlauten”. These recordings with Hausmann were conducted 1957 – 1966, and the CD is indispensable to the sound poetry fanatic! The first printing is limited to just 1050 copies, so hop on the train to get your copy! Maybe the easiest way to get it is from Anomalous Records in Seattle ( or Metamkine in France (

Raoul Hausmann at the Librairie Loewy, Paris 1961
(Photo: Martha Rocher)

Of course there are a number of other sound poets that should be mentioned, but I’ve tried to keep the text in reference to Kurt Schwitters’ “Ursonate” and one obvious line of descent from him. There is much to be said about sound poetry as a whole, and there are many worthy “contemporary” representatives of this obscure sound art, like François Dufrêne, Bernard Heidsieck, Henri Chopin, Gerhard Rühm, Ilmar Laaban, Arrigo Lora-Totino, Franz Mon and Ernst Jandl, to mention but a few. Lately I’ve also discovered the brilliant sound poet and media artist Erik Belgum in Minnesota, and a media artist in a wider sense in Michigan, Rotcod Zzaj (Dick Metcalf). We should not overlook Swedish poet and writer Sonja Åkesson, who in some of her poems crossed the border into he land of sound poetry. Certainly the genial Öyvind Fahlström is residing within this group of Excellencies, as is, in the wider and broader sense of the term sound poetry, also Swedish poet, writer and sound artist Åke Hodell. The beatnik writer Wiking Wahlgren, author of “Journey Through a Frozen Reality” (1968) (who inherited millions and quickly withdrew from his beatnik circumstances) made a few – now legendary – recordings on reel-to-reel in the Swedish city of Norrköping in December 1967 (I was at the reel-to-reel…) of the train schedule, northern Swedish route!

Wiking Wahlgren, guru of the gurus (in 1967…)

At the same golden occasion a first grade teacher called Annica from Grycksbo made a beloved performance of her own “Gyllene ö” (“Golden Isle”), in, perhaps, an unconsciously sound poetic version, now circulated on private CDs. (Listen to Annica from Grycksbo's recitation at!) There are several uncanny lovers of the arts, fortunately!

A wider and deeper, comprehensive, analysis of Sound Poetry and its voices in the world can be studied in a few issues that the knowledgeable and stubborn Teddy Hultberg has written or edited, or both. He has issued a book that deals solely with Sound Poetry and its most closely related art forms; “
Literally Speaking – Sound Poetry & Text-Sound Composition”, Bo Ejeby Publishing House (1993) ISBN 91 88316 04 1. Hultberg is also the editor of the big book about Fylkingen;Fylkingen. New Music & Intermedia Art”, Fylkingen Publishing House (1994) ISBN 91-972403-0-3, which naturally also deals a bit with Sound Poetry. Teddy Hultberg also recently released a magnificent volume of the art of Öyvind Fahlström; “Öyvind Fahlström On the Air; Manipulate the World!”, Swedish Broadcasting Corporation Publishing House / Fylkingen Publishing House, ISBN 91-522-1817-1, with two submitted CDs with revolutionary groundbreaking works by and with Fahlström.

Öyvind Fahlström 1959
(Photo: Lüfti Özkök)

Teddy Hultberg has also produced three radio series with sound poetry and related disciplines, which have been broadcast in Swedish music and art channel P2, for sure preserved on home burnt CDs at the homes of many lovers of Sound Poetry, especially in Scandinavia. In these programs we can hear, in addition to all the wonderful and intriguing Sound Poetry, Hultberg’s own interviews with some of the most important sound poets of our day, like François Dufrêne, Henri Chopin and Bernard Heidsieck.

Sten-Åke Remnerth (left) and Sune Karlsson
at Lilla Strömgatan 3 in Nyköping, Sweden (1970s)

(Photo: Hans Åke Runell)

Let me finish up with a motto that the sound juggler – now famous innkeeper and chef at the Castle in Nyköping, SwedenSten-Åke Remnerth once in his sound poetic youth said: “Befria språkonet”, which would translate into something like “Liberate the langigs!