process notes


This project was a lot of fun and the concept obviously hit a nerve in the poetry community. In all, we received over 50 submissions. After posting the submissions to a private blog to which all three of us had access, we narrowed down the choices by commenting in turn on each submission. We found we agreed pretty quickly. When we were down to about five sets of three, I tested these with voice drafts. As I have found working at Whale Sound, it’s best not to make decisions about a poem which is to be published as a voice artefact until you have actually made it into a voice artefact – the quality of a poem on the page is no guarantee of its aural quality. Two of the five sets, despite looking great on the page, didn’t pass the voice test. I uploaded the remaining three sets (from Donna, David and Lisa) for the others to hear. Then Swoon and I pretty much simultaneously had the same idea of picking the same three poems, one from each set, to work together as a triptych, rather than working with three poems from a single author. The obvious connection between the three was the bees/wasp common factor, but they also shared the same ‘feel’ of ultra-magnified self-awareness and personal dislocation. Swoon came up with the name for the triptych, Propolis, which is a resinous mixture used by bees as a sealant in the hive and seemed like the right name – “as in the glue between three poems, as in the combination of different ingredients,” as Swoon said. Once we’d made the decision on the three poems and obtained permission from the poets to use one poem from each of them, I recorded them as voice and sent the recordings to Swoon and Kathy. Based on those recordings, Kathy came up with her lovely eerie accompanying music. Then Swoon took the voice and music and worked his unifying video magic. As he worked, he uploaded draft videos to a private You Tube account so Kathy and I could watch and provide input to help him tweak them. As the videos got closer to completion, I designed the website as a private blog to which Kathy and Swoon had access, and they gave comments on that as it developed. As Swoon said, the whole process was indeed ‘organic’ and there was something very satisfying about the overall symmetry of ‘three’ that pervaded the project – three poems, three poets, three artists, three ‘arts’, etc etc.


“Bees, wasps, honey, sting, the cycle of pollen and ancient ripening … Each of these poems had a mythic quality for me. I recorded three tracks using a kantele, tuning fork, and cello. These three layers I called the “demented lyre”, the “buzz”, and the “awkward swan”. They were twisted together to create the final soundscape for Nic’s voice and Swoon’s haunting images.”


“Once we decided which poems would form the triptych, my quest for images began. Paintings were my first idea. I didn’t only want to make three separate videos (as with Nightvision), I also wanted to make a combined ‘live’ triptych. Reading David’s poems gave me that idea. Painters that gave me inspiration for this work: Turner, Goya and Bacon. Especially with regard to colors and the concept of the volcano.



Volcanos. They brought me back to the Prelinger Archives where I found great images of volcano eruptions in Hawaii, which I treated and layered. These images form the volcano ‘background’ of the films. For the ‘foreground,’ I wanted to work with images from existing video art and wanted also to retain the form of the classic triptych. In this way, not only do you get first class imagery, you also give new life to existing works, by integrating them into another dimension, merging them with three different art forms (words, music, speech). So I searched for and found images. Asked for and received permission to treat, re-use and edit them. Above all, I wanted human figures and/or faces. But I wanted them to be in some way deformed/re-formed, and this sort of footage is hard to find. Faces (and close-ups) are easier to find, but I wanted expression – character.

In the end, I found three different films with enough great footage to re-use for the ‘foreground’ of the videopoems. The poems are the story-line. Nic’s readings and Kathy’s music brought them together. All I had to do was make sure that whatever images I used followed the lines of that construction. There was a lot of mailing back and forth between us three about what worked, and what didn’t. Length, intensity, sequence, and so on. A very organic way of working led to this result. Inspiring.”


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  1. […] Sound (Nic Sebastian) and Cello Dreams (Kathy McTavish). According to the extremely interesting process notes for the project, Swoon took the lead in determining the artistic direction (inspired by Turner, […]

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