Jaap Blonk is a remarkable self-taught composer, performer, visual artist and poet. To see him on-stage is to be dumb-struck at first by the seeming oddity of his work – the presentation of abstract vocal sounds and extraordinary facial and bodily gyrations; if one can get past that, one marvels at the sheer inventiveness of his art. He is funny, serious and virtuosic at the same time. He is part sound poet, part sound technology artist, part experimental theatre performer, and he uses improvisation within a structure, or to shape the structure, in many of these modes. He takes his voice and body far beyond the normal range of expression which the rest of us use in daily communication.
Blonk’s background as a mathematician and saxophonist has fed his flight into sound composition and performance, and his influences can be found in jazz, performance art, conceptual creation, sound art, and electronic music. He is a unique artist working in a narrow, yet distinctive, exciting and entertaining field of avant-garde expression.
In the late ‘70s Blonk began his engagement with sound poetry, an art form with a variety of antecedents, but often identified strongly with the Dadaist movement, in particular the events known as Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich 1916. Dada intended to turn the art world on its head, to make revolutionary and undefinable art, a kind of anti-art. Cabaret Voltaire, a series of cross-disciplinary performances held on the small stage in Zurich’s Hollandische Meierei café, provided a venue for collaborations amongst musicians, poets, visual artists, and playwrights. Hugo Ball composed and performed what we now call sound poems (“verse ohne worte”) – seemingly nonsense pronouncements of phonemes, vowels, consonants and unnamable sounds in the form of chants, growls and hums – an exploration of the capacities of the mouth and its components. Sound poetry has survived and evolved consistently since then. In 2001, the National Center for Contemporary Art in Kaliningrad, Russia, published Homo Sonorus, a CD anthology and print catalogue featuring one hundred and ten artists from twenty-two countries, male and female, who perform sound poetry as part of their art. Jaap Blonk is included and is representative of these artists and of the evolution into inter-disciplinary forms.
One of Blonk’s early inspirations was German artist Kurt Schwitters, whose extended sound poem Ursonate inspired Blonk to memorize and perform it in part or whole hundreds of times in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Blonk has since expanded his repertoire with his own compositions and in collaboration with other sound artists and musicians.
Listeners who find Blonk’s work intriguing might also want to investigate Kurt Schwitters’ visual and sound art, Hugo Ball’s diary Flight Out of Time, recordings by French sound composer and performer Bernard Heidsieck, British sound poet Bob Cobbing, Estonian surrealist poet Ilmar Laaban, and those by Canadians bpNichol, Paul Dutton, and The Four Horsemen sound/performance ensemble, among others.
The Jaap Blonk performance captured here was recorded in The Club at The Banff Centre on October 12, 2012, as part of WordFest.
© 2013 Jaap Blonk