Make Some Noise: Frank’s Letter to the Workshop

Frank Rubino’s letter of invitation and inspiration to the weekly Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of February 2, 2021

Hi Everybody-

We got snow! 

My art school friend was Donald Miller. We shared a couple of painting classes and I followed his reading recommendations (for which I’m grateful to this day) and we went to films and clubs together and shared student life. Donald was learned and debauched and made compelling, challenging art in many different forms, poetry, painting & collage and music. He was one of those people with a kind of hard-won performers’ camp that was very seductive to me, whose facade he let me see behind. And he was outrageous. His project, Borbetomagus (“Worm King”) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borbetomagus is still active. Google says Genre: Free jazz, Noise rock, Classical 

This week I watched a film on Swans https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seer_(Swans_album) Genre: Rock, No wave, Industrial music, Post-punk, Gothic rock, more, that brought Donald and Borbetomagus to mind. Both Swans and Borbetomagus are concerned with noise and with particular uses of sound that seem extra-musical, or maybe proto-musical.

Watching the Swans film (“Where Does A Body End”), I recalled my experiences of Borbetomagus in person. Those performances are still vivid in my mind (I can hear the shrieking saxes, and the screech of Donald’s escape-from-jail file working at his amped electric guitar (which he said he wanted to play like Prince). I can see Borbetomagus’s  body language— purpose, subjugation by example to the sonics— but I still don’t understand why I felt they were important to me, or what they were to me, or why anyone would seek them out the way Swans fans seek out their long, aggressive noisescapes.

I realize now I often gave myself an out from extreme art like Borbetomagus: it was “ironic”; it was a “position”; it was a “school.” 

Whereas Swans fans describe their concerts as “ecstatic rtitual.”

Whereas Don Dietrich and Jim Sauter of Borbetemagus contorted their bodies around their saxophones like dervishes.

But my recent pursuit of chance and failure as strategies for making poems leads to noise, and an experience of noise that’s closer to a servant’s, the way Borbetomagus (and Swans) channel, create, and live in the noise. Which brings me, in pretty short order to:

Is noise art?

Is noise a poem? 

Does noise have sentences? (In Swans case yes, In Borbetomagus no) 

So many have asked this question in so many ways, that I’m not sure the strategy of making noise can produce the value of newness or entertainment, which (even now) I accept as poetic principles, just as I accept the principle of syntax.

Perhaps noise’s outrageousness is a kind of entertainment.

Perhaps noise’s confrontation is a kind of entertainment.

I do know that I feel a searcher in noise, and perhaps what I’m looking for is a poem?

Author: dzirilli

poet, cartoonist, editor of Now Culture