< Contents >

Ammons water

A poem by A. R. Ammons can offer metaphors for decentralized musical topographies.


"Conserving the Magnitude of Uselessness


Spits of glitter in lowgrade ore,

precious stones too poorly surrounded for harvest,

to all things not worth the work

of having,


brush oak on a sharp slope, for example,

the balk tonnage of woods-lodged boulders,

the irreparable desert,

drowned river mouths, lost shores where


the winged and light-footed go,

take creosote bush that possesses

ground nothing else will have,

to all things and for all things


crusty or billowy with indifference,

for example, incalculable, irremovable water

or fluvio-glacial deposits

larch or dwarf aspen in the least breeze sometimes shiver in---


suddenly the salvation of waste betides,

the peerlessly unsettled seas that shape the continents,

take the gales wasting and in waste over

Antarctica and the sundry high shoals of ice,


for the inexcusable (the worthless abundant) the

merely tiresome, the obviously unimprovable,

to these and for these and for their undiminishment

the poets will yelp and hoot forever



rank as weeds themselves and just abandoned:

nothing useful is of lasting value:

dry wind only is still talking among the oldest stones. "1


The poem can describe qualities and value of peripheral terrains outside a mainstream of rhetorical importance; these natural elements and terrains do not hold strong speeches concerning their worth. Lights are shed upon the concept of 'usefulness'. Keeping intact habitats for the "winged and light-footed" could be metaphors for a valuable diversity within a musical language. What is visible is not the whole terrain, but what appears from a particular point of view. The work of composition can be the changing perspectives within terrains, transferred to morphologies or spatial perspectives of sounds. Similar to such a natural world, the work can have a multidimensional nature, from the overall topography, to textures, surface qualities and general diversities of wildlife.


This poem is treated in two different ways in these fragments.

Texts go through FFT processes (window size 1024/2048 for a sufficient time resolution to understand some words). There are 3 different treatments:

The sounds are actively moving through the whole space, with a large selection of reverbs.

Example 30: Ammons text solo 8.


Example 31: Ammons text solo 16.


Example 32: Ammons text solo 17.

These two types of sounds are morphed in Csound9 through various transition shapes. The results are clearly hybrid sounds, while the bubbling sounds tend to be easier to recognize than the whispering.


Example 33: Ammons water 5.


Example 34: Ammons water 17.


Example 35: Ammons water 58.

At times when the meaning of the text cannot be recognized, the efforts of speaking or whispering will have been transformed to gestures. Voices are moving in and out of the peripheral areras of these terrains.



1 Ammons, 2001, Collected poems 1951-1971, p. 291.

2 Recording sessions with Sjøforsvarets Musikkkorps, Bergen. Anthony Ringdal speaks through the basson.

3 Recording sessions with Sjøforsvarets Musikkkorps, Bergen.

4 pvscale in Csound: http://www.csounds.com/manual/html/pvscale.html

5 pvsblur in Csound: http://www.csounds.com/manual/html/pvsblur.html

6 pvsarp in Csound: http://www.csounds.com/manual/html/pvsarp.html

7 The parameter kkeepform of pvscale: http://www.csounds.com/manual/html/pvscale.html

8 Recording session with Rolf Borch.

9 The Csound opcodes pvcross, pvsmix and pvsfilter.

< Contents >