Before the Christmas holidays I was watching a TED video of Golan Levin using interactive technology to manifest visual art in response to human action. The video is pretty cool itself, but there is a section starting around 6:30 (video embeded below) with Jaap Blonk performing Kurt Schwitters’ tone poem The Ursonate. (There is a longer YouTube video segment of Blonk’s performance here.)

Much to my surprise, the cadence of Blonk’s recitation ran around in my head for a few days after. I don’t know if it qualifies as an ear worm since I couldn’t tell you a single word. Though I could spout nonsense syllables in an approximation of Blonk’s performance. Maybe that is the point. The experience sent me to a website containing recordings of the work, including two by Blonk whose delivery varies in the two decades between the recordings.

I am sure if I started pondering the intent beyond the composition, I would be told I was over thinking it. But I am also certain that like the works of e.e. cummings, there was a great deal more energy invested in its creation than is initially apparent.

I immediately thought of my undergrad acting classes where we were supposed to carry on a conversation using numbers rather than words communicating our intent employing various vocal qualities. We generally limited ourselves to a pretty narrow range of expression.

I probably wouldn’t have appreciated the performances back then. Listening to Blonk’s and some of Schwitters’ recitations today, I recognize just how fun language can be. (I haven’t listened to all the different recordings.) Blonk especially seems like he enjoys playing with the sounds, luxuriating in the pleasure of pronunciation and takes joy in the enthusiastic exclamations. (I didn’t watch the YouTube video above until after I listened to the audio so my impression of his joy is almost entirely aural.)

By listening to vocalizations that are bereft of meaning, I also feel like I gained slightly more insight about how music acquires intellectual significance for people.

This is what is so great about the arts to me. I watched the TED video because I have an interest in technology and the arts. I thought the inclusion of Blonk’s recitation was fun, but it didn’t especially excite me. I wasn’t about to seek out performances of Dada tone poems at the end of the video. But something about it penetrated into my brain where it was identified as interesting compelling me to return for further investigation.


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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