Baudelaire and Electronica: strange voices and Ruth White’s 1960s experimentations

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This article examines the under-frequented musical contexts for Baudelaire’s poetry, notably 1960s American experimental electronica (Ruth White, Flowers of Evil, 1969). By focusing on the role of the composer-translator, this article tests the hypothesis that the composer-translator adds further layers of complexity and distancing to the voices of his poetry, in such a way as to create challenging new soundworlds which shatter the already fragile categories of ‘poetry’ and ‘music’ as distinct elements. The alliance between text and sound, it is suggested, becomes increasingly complicated by dislocated voices in a foreign tongue and in an experimental musical genre such that the relationship between poem and music is suffused with heightened levels of strangeness. Moreover, by critiquing the dual (but complicated) role of the composer-translator, it is possible to re-examine accepted tenets of translation theory by pitting the notion of the translator as ‘literary critic’ (Scott: 2000) alongside recent word-music theory that perceives the composer as ‘critical reader’ (Allis: 2005). It is suggested that unusual song settings of Baudelaire (using the composer’s own translation) expand our understanding of Baudelaire’s poetic palette, his use of voice(s), and the cultural reception of his work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-376
JournalComparative Critical Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Nov 2015


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