As visual artist, sound and visual poet, publisher, performer, director and promoter of independent art initiatives, Henri Chopin (Paris, 1922 – Norfolk, 2008) has been an essential point of reference for several generations of artists. In 1990 he declared that “with electronic researches the voice has ﬁnally become concrete” and that it is “the bearer of a body that never ceases to be active”, Chopin enhanced the physical valence of sound through the performative use of the body and the technologies for recording and transmission. His interest in poetry ﬁrst emerged in the mid-50s, together with his ﬁrst recordings on a portable tape recorder, already revealing his concern for sound and not texts, marking the start of an experimentation that replaced speech with language and words with voice, attaining an inﬁnite kaleidoscope of vocal sounds.
Chopin’s encounter with the work of Isidore Isou in 1952 through the viewing of the ﬁlm Traité de bave et d’éternité led in the late 50s to his convergence with the Ultralettristes, a group formed as an offshoot of Isou’s movement “inspired by the poetic of Artaud’s cry and animated by Dufréne, whose voice is the internal energy needed to power the network of relationships with the world”, as Giovanni Fontana wrote in 2008. This experimentation therefore proceeded through the recovery of pre-linguistic phonic material, direct composition with the tape recorder and the renunciation of writing.
While he was inﬂuenced by his personal experiences, especially his deportation to Germany and subsequent escape to Russia during World War II, Chopin also developed a poetic that drew on both visual and sound poetry as well as more political reﬂections in the defense of liberty and democracy. The author of numerous publications, including Le dernier roman du monde (1961), Le homard cosmographique (1965), La crevette amoureuse (1967), La Conférence de Yalta (1984) and Enluminure (1984), in 1959 he founded the review “Cinquième Saison”, which in 1964 was renamed “OU” and which would give a stronger impulse to the spread and support to the unpublished works of the artists that orbited around the horizons of visual, concrete and electronic poetry, mainly through the release of disks on vinyl and texts and images by Dufréne, Bernard Heidsieck, Sten Hanson, Bob Cobbing, Brion Gysin, William Burroughs and Ladislav Novak.
In his “audiopoems” Chopin experimented with the possibilities of sound poetry through the manipulation and blending made possible by technology, processing the audio material on the tape, which in Chopin becomes breathing, echo, reverberation, voice and variations in speed. The method used in these works envisaged a ﬁrst recording on the tape deck in which breath was used exclusively; the next listening to the trace (from 10 to 20 times), and ﬁnally a second voice recording. The other variant of this research consisted of the “dactylopoems”, a kind of typewritten score, a poetic interface, in which the visual data was mingled with phonetic textures. In listening to the audiopoems and dactylopoems, one is pursued by the physicality of the sound, which is rendered corporeal like the textualvisual part.
There is, therefore, a dual solicitation, sensory and visual, to which the audience is subjected, and Chopin’s non-sound works should also not be considered as a different, or residual, documentary element, but as a kind of recording on a different medium from tape, namely paper, which enabled him to combine and mingle sounds with text and images. These panels are visual ﬁlters by which to attain more acceptable visions of the world and life; an extremely personal and anarchic vision of reality and history that sustains an attachment to democracy, combined with a deep aversion to dictatorships, in the name of freedom.
As the artist wrote in Les ﬁltres: “… against all judgments that become clichés, against the decalogue that becomes strangeness, on the one hand I had the body, on the other the word, which no longer had the purpose of forming a great work and much less an exemplary poem, so the only way out was to give the word on the one hand all its sensuous attractions, and on the other to create an understanding of the only ‘wonder of the world’, namely life, alone and in every sense”.