This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2004

Oral pleasure: Paul Dutton interviewed by Marisa Iacobucci

Marisa Iacobucci

Photo by Barbara Niggl RadloffWhen was the last time you read a work of fiction and every single word jumped off the page to slap and tickle you and you, well, liked it, and wanted more and more? Paul Dutton’s latest work, and first novel, Several Women Dancing (The Mercury Press) will do that to no end. I kid you not. Read the first page and read it out loud. The author’s precision and musicality of language in verse reveals striking rhythms of diction, syntactical balance, and loud, effective tones.

Dutton is a Toronto-based writer whose fiction, poetry and essays have been published in books, periodicals and anthologies all over the world. He has also made his mark (and it’s loud) in Canada and internationally as a leading oral sound artist, performing as a soloist and as a member of the performance/ poetry group The Four Horsemen (1970–1988) and the free-improvisational performance group CCMC (1989–present). Check out Dutton’s Mouth Pieces:Solo Soundsinging and the recent CD Five Men Singing (Paul Dutton, Jaap Blonk, Koichi Makigami, Phil Minton and David Moss).

So, just what is oral sound art?

You could be making it right now and not even know it. In history, there is evidence that preliterate and non-western cultures communicated with sounds and images. Think about any visual cue and respond to it with a sound—sensical or unintelligible. Come on, give me your best baby talk, pent-up anger, hysteria or bleep bleep blop. Oral sound art is a way to hear your voice and to push the boundaries of orality, that is, to manipulate, modulate, and reverse sound sense and semantic sense. This is pure voice with no electronic effects or processing. “In all my areas of artistic activity my principal mode of operation is intuitive, associational and language-driven. I stress “principal” because those are not my exclusive modes. I take language in the broadest sense possible, and clearly much of my oral sound performance goes beyond language, even in the most liberal interpretation of that word.”

Dirty dancing

Several Women Dancing is a tell-all tale of one man’s passionate affair with a stripper. The penetrating effects of this naughty liaison reveal itself in the central character’s turbulent mental and emotional states. “I’ve had a lifelong erotic fascination with women, and, since puberty, an intense attraction to striptease. When I first put pen to paper, I had the notion of turning my incalculable hours of audience experience to an artistic purpose. It soon became obvious that the subject matter was ideal for exploring dimensions of intersecting and overlapping levels of conscious, subconscious, and unconscious experience, and of the spatial and temporal contexts in which they function,” explains Dutton. “Thus the book blends sensory events in the physical world with fantasy, memory, and dream. The dancing of the women is between these realms, and the several women are those to whom the protagonist is attracted, with his two most intense involvements being his mother and his lover.”

Modern lovers need not apply

Sadly, readers looking for answers to questions about modern romance and solutions to problems of the heart won’t find them in Dutton’s novel. “I don’t expect readers to find answers in it, just more questions, and, I would hope, some beauty,” he says.

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