A Conversation with Pierre Joris

A Conversation with Pierre Joris

On March 5, 2014, as part of a daylong celebration
at the New York State Writer’s Institute in honor of
Pierre Joris’ extensive achievements as poet, scholar
and translator, Tomás Urayoán Noel sat down with
Pierre for an intriguing chat about his life and work.

Special thanks to the New York State Writer’s Institute
and to Don Faulkner for sharing this footage with Barzakh.

John Cage

Bird Cage.

Twelve Tapes To Be Distributed By a Single Performer

In a Space Where People Are Free To Move and Birds To Fly.

~~~~~~~~~By John Cage.

“Bird Cage” was composed over a span of three days in 1972 at the SUNY Albany Electronic Music Studio. During the 70s, prominent composers, such as Cage and David Tudor, visited the campus to work with composer and Professor Emeritus, Joel Chadabe, who founded the studio in 1966. Cage was also drawn to the SUNY Albany campus by the CEMS System synthesizer, which was housed in the Electronic Music Studio. The CEMS System, which was used in the making of “Bird Cage,” was designed by Chadabe and built by Robert Moog, who invented the earliest modular analog synthesizer systems. The piece was written for 12 tapes to be played, 4, 6, or 8 at a time, through 4, 6, or 8 speakers respectively. The 12 tapes were mixed from 3 types of masters that Cage brought with him to Albany: recordings of the sounds of birds in cages, recordings of himself singing pieces of his Mureau (1970), and recordings of miscellaneous sounds from his daily life. With the help of Chadabe, all of the tapes from the three groupings were passed, according to an aleatoric procedure, through an 8 in/8 out matrix mixer that Cage designed for the piece, and routed to a single reel-to-reel tape recorder. This process was repeated until 12 submasters had been created. According to a different aleatoric procedure, the submasters were later played back, one after the other, through the CEMS System’s low pass filters, ring modulators, and other processing devices, into a single tape recorder, until 12 tapes for performance had been created from each of the twelve submasters.

Using the I-Ching again, Cage wrote a Score of “distribution programs” for the performance of “Bird Cage,” describing how sound produced from the tapes was to be routed to 8 speakers dispersed in a space in which “people are free to move and birds to fly.” The Score instructs its users to play back the 12 processed tapes, either, 4, 6, or 8 at a time, into, respectively, 4, 6, or 8 monitors, which are dispersed throughout the performance setting. Per his instructions, performers may follow the Score in total or in part, they may consult the I-Ching, and they may make random choices in order to determine the number of tapes that will play and the speakers to which they are routed; for instance, 4 tapes and 1 speaker, then 2 tapes and 2 speakers, and so on. As is true of most of Cage’s work, “Bird Cage” leaves performers free to make their own intuitive decisions during performance including: what tapes should be used, and when; how sound is to be distributed throughout the performance space; and how long the performance should last (the piece is ideally performed over the course of an evening or for any length of time).

Cage, Tudor, and Chadabe delivered the first public performance of “Bird Cage” at SUNY Albany, in 1973. According to Chadabe, the three played the 12 tapes for performance through Cage’s mixer, randomly selecting when which tapes would be routed to which speakers. In 1998, William Blakeney adapted this method so that the 12 tapes were passed through only one output, leading to a single tape recorder. He also included pieces of a soundtrack that had been recorded by Hans Helm, for a film documenting the making of “Bird Cage.” The sound track includes pieces of a discussion shared between Cage, Tudor, and Chadabe at the 1973 performance of “Bird Cage.” A recording of Blakeney’s actualization of the modified piece can be found below, along with excerpts from Cage’s Score and his Realization.

-Chad Lowther

Special Thanks to Joel Chadabe and Robert Gluck for their help in assembling information for this narrative.
For more on John Cage and “Bird Cage” see the Issue 5 Editorial.

Photo of Chadabe next to CEMS Synth by Warren Burt

Composer Warren Burt on the history of music
at SUNY Albany during Joel Chadabe’s Tenure


Bird Cage Score
Special thanks to the John Cage Trust, The New York Public Library, and Henmar Press.

Realization of Bird Cage
Special thanks to the John Cage Trust, The New York Public Library, and Henmar Press.

William Blakeney’s actualization of Bird Cage


Jill Magi

Jill Magi presenting at the 2013 University at Albany English Grad Student Organization Annual Conference:

Jill Magi 1

Jill Magi 2

Jill Magi 3

Jill Magi 4

By way of an introduction to Jill Magi’s work, we include here an excerpt from Sarah Giragosian’s opening remarks prior to Magi’s presentation at SUNY Albany’s 2013 Graduate Student Conference:

Jill Magi’s work has found a good home in Barzakh, SUNY-Albany’s student-run multi-genre journal.  Her work challenges the hegemony of environmentalism, with its myopic single-issue politics, and argues for a broader, systemic investigation of the ways in which labor, class, gender, race, and similar cultural categories relate to institutions of power that contribute to the devastation of the eco.   She defines an ecopolitics as a position of resistance to the institutions that perpetuate power at the expense of ethnic and racial minorities, laboring bodies, and vulnerable life forms. As she reminds us, global warming is also a social issue; it intersects with issues of oppression and the exploitation and displacement of peoples.  Art, however, can be a mode of intervention.  It is political, according to Magi, by virtue of its inherently relational cast, as the conjunction of action and reflection.

In her recently published SLOT, for example, her collection of photos, bibliographies, poetries, documentary narratives, and letters, she draws upon the potentialities of hybridity to make legible our interpolation within social systems.   Hybridity enables us to access codes of behavior and the structures of interpretation and meaning-making.  To authorize the self and to enter into dialogic relations with the reader and with the text, Magi brings together various discourses to open up a field of possibility and agency. SLOT, a term that connotes narrowness and categorization, is a critique of the monumentalizing practices of the state and a search for more meaningful, less imperializing forms of cultural memory.  An anti-monumental poetics, her poems wander through museums and exhibitions and ultimately explore the subjectivity of the tourist in pursuit of a language, an ecosystem, and a representative and mnemonic mode that is not at the service of the state.  There is no “outside,” of course; we are all hailed or recruited by the state.  And yet where there is the touch of the state—in the form of the monument or the exhibition—there is also, in Magi’s words, “the touch” of words and of the wind.   She recalls us to our mutual condition of embodiment, and the vital connection between affect and place. SLOT is a record of this engagement, even “while the world is made by debris, around a table,” and while “the cast-off grows, the cinders—“ (127).


Yes! Reading Series

The Yes! Reading Series appeared on the Albany poetry scene in early 2009 as the brainchild of Douglas Rothschild and Colie Collen. The name comes from the initials on an over-sized calendar given to Douglas by a commercial laundry machine distributor: Yankee Equipment Systems. As he tells it, “They had a BIG calendar, lots of room to write in names in the boxes, on the top of the calendar it said, YES! & in smaller type, Yankee (etc.). It was just so affirmative!” Originally, it was to be held in the Laundromat but space and noise prohibited, so it began in now defunct pizza parlor in downtown Albany. Its original mission was to bring innovative poetry and fiction to Albany and periodically combined an alternative event such as “Poetry Game Show” where prizes were awarded to the team with the best esoteric literary knowledge.

In late 2009 Anna Elena Eyre and James Belflower from Suny Albany joined the team, and the series expanded, moving to its current home in the Albany Social Justice Center and receiving sponsorship from The Graduate Student Employee Union. At the end of 2010 Douglas and Colie moved on to other projects and Cara Benson curated until early 2011.

In its current manifestation, curated by James Belflower and Matthew Klane, the Yes! Poetry and Performance series presents monthly multidisciplinary events. Its goal is to bring innovative local and national writers into conversation with experimental film, dance, music and art in the belief that these intersections enrich each form in vital ways. From essays on obscure punk music to local noise artists; contemporary “flexing” to transgender performances; and hosting writers such as Charles Alexander, Rebecca Wolff, CA Conrad, Bernadette Mayer, Corina Copp, Joshua Ware, MacGregor Card, and Kate Greenstreet, the Yes! series continues to expand its offerings through the support of a committed and encouraging audience.

Never far from its roots in the enthusiastic bustle of the laundromat, Yes! serves as a bridge between SUNY Albany and local literary communities believing that the creative diversity these interactions provide engenders mutual innovation.

Yes! Readings

For more Yes! check out
the Yes! Series video page.



Aidan Thompson

Thomas Cook

Tyler Flynn Dorholt

Tyler Dorholt and Thomas Cook




Brenda Coultas




WCH WAY was conceived by Jed Rasula and Ron Barnard in Bloomington, Indiana in the fall of 1974, with the aim of providing more space for the poets than did other magazines at that time. We were particularly interested in longer poems and sequences. Wch Way found a patron in Arthur Jackson, a local book dealer, who published the first three issues. Shortly after the first issue appeared in spring 1975, disagreements about potential contributors led to Ron’s departure. The second and third issues (fall 1975, spring 1976) were conceived as a single unit, resulting in the misleading assignment of the numeral 22 to the third issue (there would be no properly numbered 3). Birth of a daughter and an itinerant existence halted Wch Way for several years, until a collaboration with Don Byrd resulted in the fourth in 1982. Lack of funds spelled its demise until, serendipitously, in 1984 Rasula found that Jerry Rothenberg had some remaining NEA funds for New Wilderness Letter, albeit with no plans to use them. In a long weekend session, Rasula and Rothenberg sorted through a mass of manuscripts both had accumulated, putting together the core of the fifth Wch Way co-published as New Wilderness Letter 12. With Byrd’s continuing participation, a final combined issue appeared in 1985, ending the run of both journals.

-Jed Rasula
Co-creator, Wch Way

Issue 1

Issue 2

Issue 2^2

Issue 4

Issue 5

Issue 6