Listen to a Poemophone Cacophony


Our live collaborative performances emphasize an interweaving of sound, visual art, music & text. As a group, we engage in collective brainstorming to explore compositional strategies at the intersection of linguistics, literature, experimental music, & sculpture. Rarely do artists from a variety of genres have their work culminate in sound. This project brings an unusual opportunity to me & my collaborators & to our audiences. While the essential subject of this project questions acts of translation, the larger content of the work is intended to shift with the interpretations of my collaborators.



Artist Tracey Cockrell formulated each Poemophone´s tuning system for specific collaborators-musicians, writers, visual artists-so that each sculpture has an individual voice. Each voice is derived from `Outlaw´ tuning systems, meaning that intervals between tones are irregular. Applied to a typewriter keyboard, each letter of the alphabet has a musical tone. Any combination of letters played on the instrument generates an audible musical phrase rather than written transcription. Text played on a Poemophone results in an act of translation, an interpretation. Because each instrument in the series has its own unique tuning system a text composed on one will sound differently when played on another.

My interest is in how the poetics of making meaning is grounded in the look and sound of these instruments.  I am hybridizing these forms (mbira/typewriter) to juxtapose two distinct systems of composing – tuning systems and alphabets – in order to play with the voicing of meaning. The instruments I am building are to sound the thing described; playing language as a physical force.



Tracey Cockrell is an interdisciplinary artist who synthesizes sculpture, experimental music, and linguistic theory. Since 1998 she has been working on multiple collaborative projects, engaging with other artists, writers, and musicians to compose with invented musical instruments. Her sound art has been featured in radio broadcasts on KBOO and KPFA through alternative programs such as ‘A Different Nature’ and ‘Discreet Music’ and heard in live performances at the 14th and 15th Annual Music for People and Thingamajigs Festivals in San Francisco, and the 2012 CoCA Annual in Seattle. In 2010, she mounted a collaborative exhibit, POEMOPHONE: a cacophonous​ collaboration and reading series at WorkSound in Portland, bringing national and international collaborators to compose and perform on her sculptural instruments. Most notably her sculptures and installations have exhibited at Boston Center for the Arts, Institute for Contemporary Art in Portland, Maine, Oakland Arts Council, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and WorkSound in Portland, Oregon. Reviews of her work can be found in Sculpture Magazine, ArtNewEngland, the Boston Sunday Globe, WGBH tv’s ‘Greater Boston Arts,’ and Maine Public Radio’s ‘Maine Things Considered.’ Artist residencies include Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Oregon College of Art and Craft, Hewnoaks Artist Colony, Leland Iron Works, Tides Institute & Museum of Art as well as a Music USA Meet the Composer Grant for her experiments in sound and a Grant for travel research for study in India specific to the making of the sarangi.


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