Feature: Swamp Vignette


Swamp Vignette is a floating piece, quite appropriately following ancient poets’ paths of wandering. Swamp Vignette is floating a bit further ahead, outside of the current literary consumer world, where a book is “a written text that can be published in printed or electronic form.”[1] This vignette is a story, and any story told is a potential book, piece of literature, but The Symbolic Order refuses to let Swamp Vignette be reduced into written text.

The literature world owes much to written texts. Were it not written down, Homer’s Odyssey, a part of the canon of Western literature, would not have survived. Today, a point has been reached where books exist paperless, in the digital world. Samuel Butler’s translation of the Odyssey can, indeed, be found on the internet for free, and the first line reads:

Tell me, o Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.[2]

Stories, epics, poetry reading were originally an oral-aural experience. The shift to book form estranged the auditory reading experience; reading has become a visual, retinal-centric, silent, individual activity, whereas the ancient poets, the story tellers of old, often accompanied by music for atmospheric effect, told the stories. The listeners processed the story through their aural-sensory, their eyes stop seeing the outer physical world (retinal-centric reading does not let readers close their eyes,) and their minds submerged into the stories, began to construct their realities of the stories from what they knew, from what they heard, from what they imagined, from what they speculated.

It is that oral-aural experience of reading that The Symbolic Order with Swamp Vignette brings in today’s retinal-centered reading scenarios. The Symbolic Order writes:

These are not really songs, the three pieces together are a vignette, with the sounds being intended to create appropriate atmospheres.

The Symbolic Order is aware that with a headset this reading becomes a silent and repeatable individual activity, which further intensifies the internal experience of submerging into the vignette. Even better is The Symbolic Order’s creation of the atmospheric effect that accompany the three pieces. Their liner notes say:

The only instruments used on this recording are guitars. The other sounds are recordings of water, wind, car engines, leaves, grass, trees – ambient sounds. Most sounds were recorded clear, then mixed; some sounds were recorded through effects. All sounds, including guitars and voice, recorded on a Tascam DR-40, except for some water sounds recorded on a Tascam DP-008EX.

Brilliant idea – creating atmospheric effect from ambient sounds. Swamp Vignette pushes the boundary. The Symbolic Order, is a concept driven group, and they mesh and go beyond the acts of categorizing that exercise the power to divide, to water down, and to dissociate, but to generate art that is layered with fertility.

They, Michael Kearney and Durnin Martin, hear and understand the notes, rhythms, and sound features in water, wind, car engines, leaves, grass, trees… (That they do not list all is obvious when listening to the vignette. They collected and recorded who knows how many ambient sounds at locations across the Kanto region of Japan.) Even more amazing is that they can figure out the sound combinations of the different ambient sounds, to produce the right sound textures, including the vocals. If one has an ear for music, one will enjoy analyzing the elements of the sounds they produced, the effects they put to those sounds, and the mixing they did to create the music to match the story.

Swamp Vignette begins with Anticipation, the deathly road trip through rising water, the narrator is captured by the desire for Sayre. It drives him out of his room, out of his mind, to she, who is like the Sirens that lure sailors to their inevitable death, where there is no redemption. Arrival finds the ominous Zombie Shuffle where he, for the first time hesitates at the threatening sight of the abominable guard collecting entrance fees. He is doomed, the one-way never ending cycling sound of breaking water gives him no choice but to enter. Then comes Sayre’s Smile, where he becomes another demised soul of Sayre, by Sayre, the soul consumer, who adds him to her collection, enriching her peaceful swamp.

The Symbolic Order released Swamp Vignette as an EP, on June 13, 2016 at Bandcamp.com, a publishing platform for musicians. Unfortunately, the music-literature divide deprives Swamp Vignette of being perceived as a piece of literature, as a paperless narrative and leads people to miss the conceptual invitation that The Symbolic Order offers.

Swamp Vignette refuses to be reduced to a written text but it also refuses to be treated as merely songs. It refuses to be a retinal reading experience, yet Swamp Vignette is a story that is word driven. The sounds are an integrated part of the word-based story delivery, evoking images and sensations. It makes the experience more visual exactly because it refuses to offer a retinal reading. It is a story turned into a film even though there is no movie imagery. As readers listen to Swamp Vignette the story told is poetic, and vivid; one’s mind, based on each’s own imagination, will supply movies to the vignette.

The Symbolic Order is floating over the chasm of literature and music. They have already taken a written text and turned it into an oral-aural book. Their Pint Trilogy, is Michael Kearney’s written poem, “Pint” (Four Letter Words, Illustrations by Djohan Hanapi, Delere Press and Knuckles & Notch, Singapore, 2016), developed into an oral-aural book. It has emerged as a trilogy, Mirror, Shrine, Travesty offering another non-retinal reading evoking colorful and powerful sensitivities of “Pint,” while not a word has been altered. Pint Trilogy, too, refuses to be reduced into a written text or treated as simple “tracks” of music. It is a book of poetry.

So if you will, click open the book(s), click open the first chapter, click open the second chapter and then click open the third chapter. These four images of the cover and chapters that appear as you click open the pages are representations of the ambiance created by The Symbolic Order.

Close your eyes while reading and let yourself submerge in Swamp Vignette (and Pint Trilogy). Reading the intertextuality that is Swamp Vignette is a delightful, even addictive, experience. It will take about 7 minutes to finish the book. Each time you submerge more vivid the experience becomes. So, if you will, click and begin your aural experience:


The last time I checked the site, The Symbolic Order had not set any price for downloading, so if you want to carry their art in your MP3 player they are there for free. (Personally, I paid. I paid the same amount that I pay for my lunch, I didn’t mind showing the poets my respect for coming up with the concepts and pulling them off, their story telling is food for my soul. Name your price.)

[1] Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, 2018. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/book

[2] Homer, The Odyssey, Book I, Samuel Butler trans. The Internet Classics Archive.  http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.1.i.html Emphasis in italics is by the author.

Setsuko Adachi

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