Taking my BACKWARDS/SDRAWKCAB experiment as a starting point, I decided to develop the idea of reversing text and sound a bit further and started looking into moving images as well. I found a YouTube channel dedicated to filming “things that look coll backwards”.
After practicing speaking backwards for a little bit, I tried filming myself. Still, it was extremely difficult to do it without having to read the ‘words’, so you can see I had to keep looking down at the paper constantly.
In spite of having fun making drawings and collages for ‘Os Lusíadas’, I began wondering if this wasn’t something too obvious and superficial. I wanted to make something more interesting and meaningful than just illustrations.
I started thinking about the message of ‘Os Lusíadas’ and ‘Mensagem’, another poem written by Fernando Pessoa in the 20th century, inspired by ‘Os Lusíadas’. Both these books were meant to raise the spirits of the Portuguese, making them be proud of their own people and hopeful for the generations to come. I was inspired by this thought and realised that, if these authors had made something like that through words, I could at least attempt to do something similar through images.
The first image relates to ‘Os Lusíadas’ itself. Camões, the author of the poem was part of the crew in the voyages of discovery that make the theme of the narrative. It is said that one of the ships (the one he was in) sank just when they were leaving Asia to return home, and he had to swim back to shore using only one arm; the other holding the manuscript, trying to keep it safe – thus the reference to Superman.
The next image compares Amália, a famous Fado singer, to Marilyn Monroe. Much like Marilyn to the world, Amália was seen in Portugal as an iconic figure, a representation of Fado itself. This is her singing in Cannes, 1962 (the English subtitles are not accurate but you can still have an idea of what she’s singing about).
The image below depicts Eusébio, a former football player, the first to put Portugal on the map.
Finally, we have an image depicting Fernando Pessoa, author of ‘Mensagem’, a poem inspired by ‘Os Lusíadas’. Fernando Pessoa is, similarly to Camões, also considered one of the greatest authors in the Portuguese literature.
The image relates to a characteristic of this author (his use of heteronyms in his works) and something I’ve learnt not too long ago: in Norway, there’s a man who loves Pessoa’s works so much, he goes from door to door, selling his books and telling people about his life; to him, his love for Pessoa’s poems can be compared to a religion – something I found quite extraordinary. There’s also a bookshop in Oslo that sells only the ‘Livro do Desassossego’, one of Pessoa’s most famous books.
Although we apreciate Pessoa’s works very much and they’ve been included in our national high school program, I don’t think we understand how important this author has become abroad.
After my Google Translate Whispers, phonetics and BACKWARDS/SDRAWKCAB experiments, I didn’t quite know how these could be used to create something else, to create a possible outcome. Since the first experiment was text-based only and I had transcribed the sound experiments, I thought the best option would be to create a publication.
The first two pages relate to the recordings I made of my friends reading the poem; page 3 shows some of the verses from the Google Translate Whispers experiment; page 4 depicts a portrait of Luís Vaz de Camões, author of ‘Os Lusíadas’ – the red mark refers to the fact that he lost an eye after being wounded in a battle; in page 5, I wanted to create something a bit different so I came up with this shape made of names of people mentioned in ‘Os Lusíadas’;
The verses from the original poem, in page 6, refer to the names in page 5 (“Those who, for their brave deeds, will free themselves from the principle of death” – meaning that they’ll keep on living in our memory); page 7 shows the poem written backwards, refering to my BACKWARDS/SDRAWKCAB experiment; page 8 includes an image referring to a legend that I’ve mentioned previously (see top of this blog post);
Finally, in page 10, I wanted to include another perspective of language barriers and use a different alphabet from the one I know – I used Google Translate (precisely for its imperfections) and translated a stanza from the poem to Ukrainian – the result was interesting as Google gave the same translation using both alphabets (two ways of showing the same reality – almost like a reflection).
After my sound recording experiments, my tutor suggested I watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and a scene from Twin Peaks.
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” led me to research more about language and communication. I started by looking into the meaning and origin of the famous five-note sequence that plays as a theme in the film.
Composer John Williams worked with Spielberg to come up with the movie’s distinct five-note musical method of communication between humans and aliens—which Spielberg partly based on the Solfège system of musical education—a year before shooting began.
I was interested in exploring the idea of music as a method of communication, as well as the Solfège system’s concept of assigning a written syllable to a sound. An image I found while reading about the Solfège system led me to explore other methods of communication.
I even found a list of gestures explaining what each gesture means in different cultures / countries.
I was mostly intrigued by the scene from Twin Peak’s. Wondering how that would sound when speaking Portuguese, I decided to replicate the idea and record myself reading my poem backwards. I would then reverse the recording, so that the words were actually being said in the correct order.
Another experiment – related to phonetics and language – was to ask some of my friends (from various nationalities; none being able to speak Portuguese) to read the same poem used in my ‘Google Translate Whispers’ experiment. I would then attempt to re-write the poem in the way they read it.
This was an interesting experiment as each person read the exact same combination of letters in very different ways. It was particularly interesting to hear how they read sounds which were unfamiliar to them and common in the poem, such as ‘ão’, ‘nh’, ‘lh’, and ‘ç’.
It is clear in this experiment how letters are merely images associated with sounds. Even though we recognise the images, we may not understand the way they are positioned and ordered and, therefore, making it impossible for us to understand the message they contain.
Everyone in this experiment knew the images well and, for that reason, it was relatively easy for them to pronounciate the sounds. However, some combinations of letters – the order of the images – were unfamiliar to them and so they could not find the correct pronunciation.
These are quick transcriptions of the recordings. I was trying to write exactly what I was listening to.