Media Rhizome: How Voice Can Transform a Composition

The other day, Tanya posted a poem as part of her Rhizomatic Learning inquiry. Entitled Agree/Disagree, the poem explored some of the dichotomies of learning. Tanya’s post itself, including the poem, is a real thoughtful look at what she has been pondering when it comes to online learning spaces, and I felt inspired by leave her a poem as a comment, referencing some of the phrases in her original poem.

What kind of mailman puts your letters
in the tree?
I wondered as I stared up at the blue sky
of the sea
thinking again about how you communicate
here with me
across these spaces; such silent faces,
we rarely see
finding threads that we bind together
in community
while down here on the ground we spread
rhizomatic seeds

I also used Vocaroo to leave my poem for her as a podcast, and suggested that she podcast her poem, too.

Audio and voice recording >>

I often suggest that folks podcast small pieces of writing. Poetry works best, I think. For me, the words get transformed when I can hear the voice of the writer — the inflections, the phrasings, the timbre. I can’t say that many folks take me up on the offer, but Tanya did, although she used the opportunity to ponder more about podcasting.

Audio recording >>

What I found interesting is her observation about voice and reading, and how, for her, the listening might impinge up her enjoyment or understanding of a text. That words on paper, or screen, give her more agency. That in the silence of physical voice, the voice of the writer comes through even clearer. (I am now making assumptions about what she was saying but her thoughts sparked some interesting questions in my head).

Tanya’s insights and comments reminded me of a recent “album” by Beck (who has a fantastic new album coming out, by the way). Instead of recording his music and releasing it as musical files, he published it via McSweeney’s as a collection of sheet music. Manuscript files. Silent notes on the page. He wanted others to the ones making the music as they saw it, and not be influenced by his sounds. Thus, Song Reader. Tell me that isn’t cool? Lots of folks did record his songs, as featured on Beck’s Song Reader site.

Which brings me back to our poems. Tanya’s and mine. As I listened to her podcast, which ends with her reading her poem, I realized that I could not let her voice just dangle in the air. Knowing she would not mind, I grabbed her audio file and together with my own poem file, I began a remix of our poems, weaving stanzas of her in with stanzas of mine.

The result? A shared poem.

I then put out a call to others via Twitter, asking who might take the shared file a step further, adding perhaps a visual element. Mariana heeded the call, and proceeded to create this:

Would this have been the same if I had put her words and my words together on the static page? No. I don’t think so. It was her voice and my voice, and later Mariana’s images, that transformed our work together, and made it something very different than the words on the page. Would it have worked as a poem on the page? Yes. Just not in the same way.

Our voices are powerful means of communication, and we don’t use them nearly enough.

Peace (in the thinking),


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  1. Kevin – thank you for documenting this journey/play/remix/communication/conversation- whatever it is we’ve been engaging in over the last day or so. It has been an amazing experience being pulled into your world of fearless creating, remixing and remaking. It’s made me a lot braver and really truly opened up my whole perspective on how powerful art and poetry can be in exploring, playing with ideas – and connecting with others in a way you just can’t do through text or comment.

    Thanks for the links out about Beck’s album…I think I had heard a little of it a while back but didn’t realise this was what he was doing – brilliant idea! And the way the Forbes article explained it as an ‘invitation’ – Beck inviting participation – is exactly how I’d describe what you did with that first offer of your words and invitation to steal them – really an invitation to participate in play and exploration through art. I feel like it’s been a unique and special opportunity to do this – thanks again. And look forward to doing more of the same in future!

  2. Kevin, this is *absolutely* beautiful.
    Throughout my rhizomatic journey, I came up against many walls, some of which self-imposed, most of which maybe, and they all came tumbling down when I let go of whatever control I thought I had over the experience itself, just sat silently, and listened. I read Tanya’s poem in the middle of this mess. It felt as if I’d found a point of light amidst the chaos.
    Now, this took that experience to a whole other level for me – this is a beacon, bright beautiful light, co-constructed/remixed/reshared. There’s a taddy bit of me in that imagery/words, too.
    Thank you for this.

    • Intrigued by your comment Clarissa – do you reveal what these ‘walls’ are or the ‘mess’ you speak of? Was it something specific, or just feeling overwhelmed and/or uncertain of how to engage or participate, and who to participate with? I felt a fair bit of that at the beginning of this experience – reading so much, learning so much – almost too much, feeling overloaded. Then yeah, just focused on a few things and threads and people and did what I could. It really has been such an interesting experience but so much to digest and do. Kevin’s been a big inspiration and taught me so much about the value of art, play and exploration.

      • That “overload” feeling can often tip us one of two ways: we give up or we narrow our scope. How and why we make that decision says as much about us as learners as it does about the space that we are learning in. I’ve noticed that with some of the online learning spaces. Am I in or not? And if not, I have permission to disengage.

  3. Leave it to a Merry Prankster to lead his band. This was what I hoped to see more of in #rhizo14. Thank you Kevin, Tanya and Mariana for demonstrating the power of collective meaning making. And Kevin! I love Beck and am off to the song reader site. Look forward to continued media collaborations in another space down the rabbit hole!

  4. Kevin, thanks for the play and the poem. I think that nothing is more rhizomatic than play. People will stop everything else for the chance to play.

  5. Transcendent stuff from all. Each layer making dense mats of meaning. Tried to figure out a way but decided you all had it covered. Grand.

  6. Hey Kev, just coming back to this post to add a link to Clarissa’s beautifully brilliant zeega remix, which I adore.

    I need to write a post about our poetry collaborations too, was such a great experience and learnt so much…thanks again for the inspiration.

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