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Chinese Notebook
- Demosthenes Agrafiotis & Michail Palaiologou

Presented here are the results of a collaborative exchange between poet Demosthenes Agrafiotis and composer Michail Palaiologou. Poems from Agrafiotis' Chinese notebook text are performed by the poet and by the musicians, resulting in a speaking of the poem in different mediums. The musical score developed by Palaiologou 'transliterates' the Chinese notebook poems into pulses through the use of Morse Code. The piece was first performed, in an earlier form, at Birkbeck college on April 28th 2009.

Below we have included, as well as a video recording of the now completed piece in performance, the author's and composer's notes, the score for the piece and the poems themselves.

Author's Notes - Demosthenes Agrafiotis

The first version of the "Chinese notebook" was written in a notebook - with a black and red cover - which was made in China. The poems refer to the "raw material" of poetry, letters and words but they aim to be pinpointed, to get involved in the realities of modern societies and especially in globalisation and "consumer capitalism".

The interest in the raw material - letters and words - concentrates on the ways and places where the alphabets allow written poetry to formulate networks - ensembles of meanings interacting with the flow of things. Most importantly, in how does the request and ambition of poetry to be placed in the network of "visible/readable/verbal/oral/written" arise and how can it compete with the other institutions of expression, such as the scientific discourse, essays, art, prophesy...

As for the relevance of poetry to the events, the "Chinese notebook" is trying to show that poetry still owns an armoury of inventions in order to approach metaphysical foundations, cultural poverty and increased homogenisation at a global level, due to the ambiguous intrusion of rationality of the so-called techno-economic rationality or the modernisation of the market.

My preference for poetry based on letters is an opportunity to pose a number of questions on the limits and the potentialities of writing systems using alphabets in comparison to the systems using ideograms. In addition, the conversion of poems into mega-ideograms is a "strategy" so that the powerful and weak aspects of each system can be exposed. It also allows to present the letters and all their combinations in a different way: words, phrases, coexistences, spatial arrangement, thoughts, descriptions, questions etc.

The emphasis in letters and the search for many of their uses leads to primary and basic questions on the fate of poetry, in direct interaction with the fragility of the personal and collective life of the people of our planet. At least, the adventure of the writing systems is demonstrated, in other words in which way they could function as points of start or milestones for the reassessment of the values that govern human relationships.

The "Chinese notebook" cultivates the belief that the writing systems under certain circumstances still allow the construction, the realisation of the experience (epiphenomena and mysteries of life) and the emergence of human beings in and with the world.

Composer's Notes - Michail Palaiologou

Chinese Notebook
Poems: Demosthenes Agrafiotis

Chinese Notebook aims to allow both the musicians and the speaker to interpret and give voice to the poem. The speaker adopts the techniques of the human voice, while the musicians that of their individual instrument. Both of them are therefore speaking the poem using a different medium.

Performance Notes:

In the Chinese Notebook the poems are 'transliterated' with the use of the Morse Code into pulses. For this purpose the score uses only two different note lengths, the crotchet and the minim. These must be considered as short and long note values with no specific length. The long notes can be as long as the performer decides but never shorter than the longest short note in the same unit (a word, letter or any combination of the two), and equally the short notes can be as short as the performer decides but never longer than the shortest long note in the same unit. Thus, a clear distinction is maintained between long and short note values, even though these values will vary.

The score is divided into the introduction (title) and 7 Sections (one for each poem). The Introduction should be performed by the instrumentalists only, playing in rhythmic unison and with the indicated dynamic. The title should be voiced by the speaker after the instrumental introduction.

The first Section should start immediately after, with the musicians preceding the entrance of the voice in that Section.

At the beginning of each Section there are pitch, dynamics and technique indications for the musicians. The pitch indications should be followed strictly. The dynamics and the technique indications, while fixed, should be interpreted individually by the musicians in each separate performance. These latter are therefore presented as suggestions, with the performer free to vary the dynamics and the technique in each new performance. The score does not include indications for the speaker, who should be free to voice the text. All the performers are free to interact with each other.

Every section should last about forty five seconds.

The performer can decide to perform the whole poem or a unit within that, repeat, or use any desired combination of units of the poem in the given time.

The sections should start and end with a gesture from the speaker.

When the gesture has been given, the instrumental performers should not stop until they have finished their selected unit and they should perform the Sections continuously.

Throughout the piece, pitch indications are condensed to a single pitch ('C') and its quarter tones, varying in register. This is designed for the musicians to focus interpretation upon the text, rather than upon the creation of (pitch related) musical phrases. At the end of Section 3 the chord indication should be performed by the musicians with one or the other continuing the interpretation of Section 3. The second musician then joins the first. The musicians then continue directly to the next section (Section 4). Likewise with the scratch tone indicated at the end of Section 5.

Chinese Notebook Score - Michail Palaiologou

Chinese notebook score 1

Chinese notebook score 2

Chinese notebook score 3

Chinese notebook score 4

Chinese notebook Poems - Demosthenes Agrafiotis

Chinese notebook poems 1   Chinese notebook poems 2

Chinese notebook poems 3   Chinese notebook poems 4

Chinese notebook poems 5

Chinese notebook poems 6   Chinese notebook poems 7

Chinese notebook by Demosthenes Agrafiotis is available in Greek, French and English Language editions:

English Language edition:
"CHINESE NOTEBOOK", Ugly Duckling Press, N.Y, 2010 (forthcoming)
Text translated by John Sakkis and Angelos Sakkis.

French Language edition:
"CAHIER CHINOIS", Les Editions {o}, Bordeaux, France, 2008.
ISBN 978-2-917264-05-8
Text translated by Michèle Valley.
Price: 9 euros.

Greek Language edition: "ΚΙΝΕΖΙΚΟ ΤΕΤΡΑΔΙΟ", Εκδόσεις Ερατώ, Αθήνα, 1988
"KINEZIKO TETRADIO", Ekdoseis Erato, Athens, 1988
"Chinese Notebook", Erato publications, Athens, 1988
(with a drawing of D. Agrafiotis, printed, the same for all books)
ISBN 960-229-004-8
Price: 10 euros
[40 copies with an original drawing -chinese ink (different for each book) by D. Agrafiotis, Price: 100 euros.(]


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