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Mad Cartographers

by Luke Martin

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part 1 40:45
part 2 37:14


Luke Martin is an experimental composer, performer, and writer living in Minneapolis, MN. He plays guitar and no-input mixing board, often with people in and around the Wandelweiser Group, and is part of the ensemble Ordinary Affects. Luke's work is mainly oriented toward thinking -- particularly by way of silence as such -- a positive relation between music and truth.


released April 21, 2023

I had returned to Jack Spicer’s poem-letters to the dead poet Federico García Lorca—After Lorca (1957)—at least once a year from 2015 – 2020. Introduced to me by the Californian poet Anthony McCann in the context of writing / listening / speaking to the dead, and discussed
often at the time with my friend Leah Levinson, these poems have retained an undeniable heaviness or gravity for me ever since. How does one relate to such a thing? It floats around, beckoning to you, slipping your hold, breaking your heart. A witnessed correspondence that seems to withhold a sort of secret, an emptiness which nonetheless quietly shatters, annihilates, wrecks. What was Jack corresponding to, corresponding with? The poem-letters refuse to be
reduced to something else; steadfast and unassuming, they hang just out of sight, always on the periphery of things. Drifting toward you from time to time, you hear their yearning call, paradoxical in its total closedness, to correspond. This is how I saw, and see, Jack Spicer’s beautiful, contorted, and understated letters to Lorca.

And so this piece—mad cartographers—is my attempt to correspond (be corresponded) to a ghost which has lovingly haunted me, to map that relation (and be mapped). There is something in this process which is at the core of music, of being a musician; something in its
sacred uncertainty or uncertain sacredness. This is maybe why Jack was so interested in music and sound, dedicating several books and poems to the subject. It is too, for me, as I think it was for him, a meditation on friendship and love. How to relate to someone in their total richness, without reduction, without oneness: a relation containing a plenitude far greater than any mysticism will allow. When he signs his letters to Lorca “Love, Jack” he is being precise. Honest. And honoring. — “Your special comrade.”

In his second letter, he writes that the perfect poem must have an “infinitely small vocabulary.” And later, in letter five, a repeated, and repeatedly failed, attempt to write about sound, “I again
begin to write you a letter on the sound of a poem.” He gestures toward this gaping juncture again and again: the erasure of language, the sound which refuses to be heard. This is the language-sound, on the edge of nothingness, of the infinitesimal. Underneath it all comes
the question: what would be a poem through which the dead speak? A poem which justifies them, honors them, allows them to cease their haunting, to be in their silence and stillness? Only the absolutely unjustifiable poem, the perfect poem, the true poem, can do justice to the hauntings of a ghost.

Unjustifiable correspondences. Spicer writes in his third letter: “one does not need to imagine that lemon; one needs to discover it. Even these letters. They correspond with something (I don’t know what) that you have written (perhaps as unapparently as that lemon corresponds to this piece of seaweed) and, in turn, some future poet will write something which corresponds to them. That is how we dead men write to each other.” In my mind there is hardly a more beautiful
aspiration than to be taken by such a correspondence, and then to continue to labor upon it, as if casting dice into the future.

Since finishing this piece in 2020 or so, I have not returned to the poem-letters. They have become quiet. I do not know if this is momentary or permanent. The latter is rather frightening and Jack’s last line in his sixth and final letter to Lorca echoes in my mind when I think of this piece in that way (indicating I may not yet have succeeded)—“saying goodbye to a ghost is more final than saying goodbye to a lover. Even the dead return, but a ghost, once loved, departing will never reappear.”

The piece has five components: silences, sine tones, filtered noise, field recordings, and reading. The field recordings were made in Lido, Italy (a little island strip off of Venice) as part of a Sound Kite artist workshop led by Florian Dombois in 2019. We flew his sound kites on the beach, improvised, and listened to the singing of the wind. We also attached contact mics to the piano wire connected to each kite and then listened with headphones—while recording—to the resonant howling. I always thought I could hear voices through the piano wire. The readings are of each poem-letter Spicer wrote to Lorca, in order, as well as one letter at the end written by me to Jack. I also read aloud his short, haunting poem “Magic”, which holds a special place in my life. And finally there is a recording of Spicer himself reading “Psychoanalysis, An Elegy”, a poem he wrote in 1949. After Lorca & “Psychoanalysis, An Elegy” are from My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, ed. Gizzi and Killian, Wesleyan University, 2008. AL originally pub. 1957. “PAE” originally pub. 1949. “Magic” is from The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, The Auerhahn Society, San Francisco, 1962.

Composed in Boston, MA and Saint Paul, MN. 2019 – 2020.
Mastered by Luke Damrosch.


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