ZACHARY SCHOMBURG collaborates with Typhoon guitarist Kyle Morton on an album of dreamy poetic soundscapes. Bianca Stone turns her poems into Diane Cluck-esque folk songs. Dot Devota juxtaposes sound collage from Ferguson protests with collaborations from travels in Taiwan. Sampson Starkweather and Brandon Shimoda collaborate with poets and musicians. Jon-Michael Frank shouts over Supremes songs like a 21st-century Steven Jesse Bernstein. Sommer Browning records a live comedy album in her living room. Less than a year and a half into its existence, Black Cake Records has already built up an impressive all-digital catalog of writers recording their work in interdisciplinary—and often surprising—ways.
"I wanted there to be a forum for publishing and sharing crossover works that were neither poetry nor records, but some kind of other performance," says Black Cake's founder, the Portland poet Kelly Schirmann. Schirmann doesn't set strict constraints on Black Cake's sound projects, preferring to let the poets choose their own approaches. While this prompts some to create work that falls somewhere between art forms, others create comparatively straightforward audio chapbooks.
Schirmann's interested in what she calls "the intersection between the private act of reading and the more intimate act of being read to," and she solicits work from poets whom she suspects will create an experience that's different from simply encountering words on the page.
Throughout Black Cake's catalog, that intimacy of being read to is easy to find, from the slumber-party cleverness of Sara Woods' Cloudbusting, to the slightly ominous wit of Emily Kendal Frey's From Sorrow Arrow and the answering-machine noir of Chelsea Hodson's Night Redacted.
Across this diverse collection, the records are unified by Schirmann's brilliantly cheeky album cover collages and the simple fact that they're offered free of charge. "I wanted the material to be free for the public to access, and this is a hugely important part of the project," Schirmann says. "Poetry is amazing because it exists entirely outside of capitalism, and I wanted to create a library, not just a series of consumable products."
In the near future, Black Cake will co-curate readings and may even turn some releases into physical albums, while keeping the focus on free digital recordings from up-and-coming poets. "I'd like a new generation of writers to have a forum for producing recordings," Schirmann says, "and I'd like a new generation of readers to have access to hearing them."