Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I'm preparing a lecture/demonstration for a conference at Interlochen College of the Arts (in Interlochen, Michigan) at the end of April. The subject is my work integrating text and music. I've done different things: live computer processing, converting spoken word into pitches & rhythms (using computer, or chamber ensemble.) I've written "songs," and various types of sound poetry, but my main interest has been is in setting spoken word. Singing can obscure speech rhythms and pitch contours.

My usual technique when writing for instruments is to transcribe a naturalistic performance of the text into musical notation and then use that rhythmic material to create instrumental parts.

Here are three examples. The first two are pieces I wrote for arraymusic, for chamber ensemble and reciter. One is here and here.

The second uses one of my poems (Psalm) with the vocalist chanting on a single pitch. I don't usually use singers singing (especially those from the classical vocal tradition) but this was an experiment. I've also used oboe, flute, and French horn. It can be found at the amazing kalvos.org over here.

Oh, and since this is a blog, I guess I should tell you that I have a pink plastic fish on my desk, I'm drinking Hamilton water, and one of my shoes is being chewed by the dog.


functional nomad said...

I like seeing the music to Psalm. Looks like something I would be able to play on the piano, with a little practice.

Thanks for posting the links to the audiofiles. I kept thinking as I was listening, wondering really whether these works were part of the Lautgedichte tradition, or how they might relate to that whole world. The instruments seem to interfere with the semantic meaning of the poems, even in the two without singing, pushing against the voice, indeed pushing the voice into strange intonations and linguistic surges. "Psalm" on the other hand, because of the extreme control, seems to work in the opposite direction: the inflection of the voice is overdetermined by the composition, which produces a similar kind of sonic distraction.

Am I rambling into sense or instabilty? If I type with perfect rhythm will that make more sense?


gary barwin said...

It is interesting that you speak of "sonic distraction." My conception of the pieces is that the voice and the instruments intersect in the rhythmic (and less so, in the pitch) world. The text becomes semantic music.

Setting text, to cite Victor Shklovsky as you did over on funnomad.blogger.com is "making strange." When the monks created Gregorian chant from church texts, they were "making strange." They were distancing the text from normal language use. Even more apt, in relation to my piece "Psalm," when text was chanted in "psalm" tones (which meant on one or maybe two pitches), the formalized presentation marked it off as a special instance of language use.

In what way is speaking like music? When does speech become singing? What is the difference between "chant" and speaking? How do speech rhythms and pitch contours relate to these other forms?

To me, the voice is a procenium. Many different things can walk before its footlights.

gary barwin said...

Oh, in reference to the Lautgedichte tradition, I don't see these piece as directly relating to sound poetry. There are many example of text setting that are closer to speaking and song. Schoenberg (sprechstimme, see one of my faves, A Survivor from Warsaw) Louis Andriessen (for eg. De Stijl), Berio in places, Walton, Rzewski (for ex. Attica), Steve Reich (eg. Different Trains & Come Out), Meredith Monk, and others. These are works that function musically but also semantically (though often using non-standard grammatical or rhetorical devices.)