Footage of a series of poetry performances by Gerhard Ruhm. The tape begins with a shot of the audience, Bob Cobbing waiting in the background. Cobbing takes the stage, introduces the third session of the Sound & Syntax festival and reads a translated quote from Ruhm about sound poetry, which the Austrian refers to as ‘linguistic but non-verbal communication.’ The camera pans to Ruhm, who begins his first piece, a repetitive sound poem which lasts until about 9 minutes in and involves a small percussion instrument as well as a device that makes a sound like a cow. He then introduces (with the help of a translator) some early sound poems from 1952, involving strange, guttural noises. Several more poems follow, including one called ‘Prayer,’ with short syllables repeated like a mantra, ‘For As Long As You Can’ which involves Ruhm holding a one-syllable note for as long as he can with one breath, a poem using sounds abstracted from the Viennese dialect, a recorded piece with the sound of a typewriter (at which point the camera pans to show the rotating reels of the tape-machine), a short sound poem in 3 parts called ‘Hymn to Lesbians’, a poem whose vocabulary was set up by Ruhm when sober but the piece actually written when he was drunk and ‘Great Distance Meditation Song’ where syllables represent the distance to the Moon and Mars respectively. The introductions to the poems are mostly translated by Jeremy Adler, who is sitting in the audience. Ruhm finishes with a long poem that considers the drama and phonetics of numbers and counting. The camera is fairly static, with occasional pans to the audience and the tape machine. After the last performance Ruhm leaves the stage, Cobbing says a few words and the tape ends.
The Viennese poet Gerhard Ruhm was one of the founders of the Wiener Gruppe of experimental poets in the 1950s. Their early manifestations of happenings and actions prefigured the Actionists. Ruhm has worked across the boundaries of the visual and linguistic in what he calls ‘inter-medial’ works.