Antiphonal Airs is a mixilating series of poems from poet-musician Joseph Noble. Some are improvisational riffs on specific composers, their lives and work, and some imitate the sonic movement and aleatoric rhythm of music itself. The sheer scope and range of the collection has been summarised poignantly by fellow poet, David Meltzer:
A sumptuous collection by poet-musician Joseph Noble. The certainty of his pitch & intonation reveals a distinct tender voice. Measured, graceful, his work sustains its depth throughout. The first section on “early music” is revelatory in its range & insight. Rich in historical acumen, musical heart, Antiphonal Airs is an impressive body of work
Noble works between polyphony and monody, his poetic lines mirroring the development of the seconda practica of the Baroque, in which the form of vocal music was made to reflect and fit the meaning of the words. In the opening segment, Invenzioni e Stravaganze, Noble is inspired by early baroque Italian composers, both major and minor, from Monteverdi to Frescobaldi. He weaves in and out of compositional minds, mirroring their musical creativity with an astonishing variety of compositional forms (explained in a short afterword) “from call and answer to dramatic monologue, from riddle to sonnet, from story to list to song, and many invented types.” Through the twin acts of listening and imbibing the poet recovers a number of composers that have been lost to the general listener but recently revived by the ‘early music’ movement.
In At Sound Noble follows the Orphic muse through music’s different phases and stylings, from the primal to the ornate, always following Hazrat Inayat Khan’s dictum that the world and its language come to us through sound and vibrations. As the author attests, the piece is a requiem for his parents in which he allows himself to take creative liberties with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. In attendance are Edgar Varese, Ferrucio Busoni, Claudio Monteverdi, Dino Campana, John Adams, as well the composers that wrote operas based on the Orpheus and Eurydice story, Monteverdi, Haydn, Gluck, Offenbach and Peri. After an astonishing grouping of poems Noble provides a little insight as to his intentions:
I tend toward a belief, along with Orpheus (or, rather, what Orpheus dramatizes through his many cultural manifestations) and Hazrat Inayat Khan, that the world comes from sound and vibrations, manifests itself through vibrations, that each being has its own vibrations, that particular beings come into existence through vibration. Whether it’s Orpheus travelling down through the levels of the spheres and learning music, which can be taken as a correlative to beings moving as vibrations through the spheres and eventually taking physical forms, or Hazrat Inayat Khan discussing how sound and vibration are the origin of this world and the source from which beings spring, I am fond of this idea of forms and flesh coming from sound and vibration.
A truly ground-breaking work, Antiphonal Airs demonstrates how a poet can speak as both the receptor and creator of music, all the while inhabiting the places of its ambiance – Venice, Brescia, Neuberg, Milan, etc. The work follows An Ives Set, a poetry collection that explored mercurial compositions of Charles Ives, and about which Andrew Joron wrote – “Noble has somehow tinkered a radio out of words, and tuned it to receive transmissions from a lost paradise of music.” In the final sections of Antiphonal Airs, Noble plays Hide and Seek with his voyeuristic ear, intones the deep lyrical poetry found in wordless Songs, and explores the Correspondences between sound and ephemera – from classical to jazz to the avant garde. Perhaps fellow poet and friend, Elizabeth Robinson, sums it up best:
In Joseph Noble’s Antiphonal Airs, the reader perceives form meeting form, each shaping and naming the other in “aural geometries” that are simultaneously “recognizable and strange/at the rim of/summoning and leaving.” Noble’s keen ear certainly endows the language of these poems with lyricism and lushness, but below that enticing surface are patterns “silent and/only seen/erased and/only heard.” Such confusion of pattern, Noble reveals, makes possible the genesis of new meaning, new form. This he discloses through the attention and responsiveness that the antiphon of his title suggests. These poems make us aware of correspondences flourishing in interchanges that are no less powerful for their ephemerality: “sound at the edge/ of note and naught.”
Skylight Press is proud to publish Antiphonal Airs, a truly astonishing dialogue between poetry and music. The cover features a painting entitled Filament by Joseph Noble’s Cloud Shepherd bandmate and fellow poet, Brian Lucas. Antiphonal Airs is available from various retail outlets such as Amazon, Amazon UK, or direct from the Skylight Press website.