April 1, 2005
St. Cloud, Minn. — During his live performances, Chris Mann is on stage, in front of a microphone, his audience surrounded by speakers. He reads his poetry lightning fast. Depending on where audience members sit, they may hear only bits and pieces of certain words or phrases coming from different directions.
Mann says he likes to challenge his audience.
"The propositions are quite dense and ambiguous. Some people like the idea of one idea at a time, they are habituated to prose, I find that a very strange idea myself," Mann said
Mann is interested in the philosophy of language, how words and sentences are constructed, and what language sounds like when it's stretched or cut into bits.
"I'm interested in how we get from this point of a sentence to that point of a sentence, with a whole bunch of parenthesis, and asides, and excuses, and non-sequiturs, and hopefully make sense," Mann said.
Mann's work is challenging, but he has some hard core fans. Mark Eden is a mass communications professor at St. Cloud State University. Eden, who thinks Chris Mann is a genius, says a listener might not understand what they're hearing at first. But a few hours or even days after a performance, little phrases from Mann can pop back into their head.
"It's very similar at times to the end of a commercial, a car commercial, where they are giving you all that legaleeze. And you know something is going on. But you are also wondering 'Is this the stuff that is eventually going to get me?' And so I think what he does is put us on very unstable ground at this point, sonically and semantically," Eden said.
Eden's advice: just relax and take it all in.
"It's going to by very fast anyway. It's very much like experiencing a wave. You don't fight the wave, you just kind of float with it," Eden said.
Chris Mann's public performance at St. Cloud State University is part of a festival of language called "Voicings". It will include artistic, social and scientific discussions regarding language.
But a highlight will be Chris Mann's newest work which makes its U.S. debut. It's called "dunno how to get there but wouldn start from here" (sic). He recently presented it at an arts festival in Germany. He says half the audience liked it, and the other half complained. But criticism is not a problem. Chris Mann says it'll be up to the audience at St. Cloud State to decide whether to applaud what he disdainfully describes as the heroic efforts of the composer.