Revue Ou

By Howard Slater, 28 November 2002

As questions of language and communication come to take an increasingly significant role in current debates about redefining the political, this archive anthology appears pressingly timely.

Across its 64 tracks, through its booklets, poster inserts and polemical articles we are sensorily inveigled with a myriad of seemingly asignifying vocal sound works that employ various techniques. Common to most is the use of magnetic tape to enable the voice to be multi-layered. From this paradigm issues the somatic language, the language of physical presence, of Lettrist fellow travelers Gil Wolman and Francois Dufrene; the intercut poetry of social insertion deployed by Bernard Hiedsieck and, perhaps most strikingly, the microphonic body undulations of Ou editor Henri Chopin. With the latter issues of his audio-magazine reflecting the electronic manipulation of the voice as epitomised by the likes of Sten Hanson and with old favourites Bob Cobbing and William Burroughs making an appearance, this reissue provides us with a mini history of the novel-hating European avantgarde. One that is made prescient by Henri Chopin’s own attitude to the magazine as tool for continual research into a poetry beyond the stanza: a concrete, pictographic and often unscored poetry that eschews ‘figurative word thought’. The inclusion of Raoul Hausmann’s sing-song prearticualtions, far from being a legitimating factor, are ways that we can, after Walter Benjamin, experience the past rather than consume it as historicity. As a living archive of a living culture, then, this box set of buccal sound and sonorous extremities seems to be giving form and expression to feelings and emotions, psychical transitions, that a too proficient language-use makes not only clumsy, but too steadfastly defined and dumb. So, if we are heartfelt about Paolo Virno’s statement that ‘language itself has become wage labour’ is there any way that we can’t hear this anthology and the praxis it represents as a wildcat strike?

Henri Chopin’s Revue Ou: An Anthology of Sound Poetry 1958-1974 // Alga Marghen: Plana-OU 15 Vocason045.1-4, 2002 // distributed by These Records, 112 Brook Drive, London SE11 4TQ, <>

Howard Slater is a writer living in London