Speak Up

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Monday, March 08, 2010

I’ve been fascinated with the idea of “speech melody” ever since I first heard Steve Reich’s Different Trains performed outdoors by the Kronos Quartet during one of many adolescent summers at music camp. There’s something hyper-human about re-contextualizing the basic cadences of speech into a melodic arc that struck me then, as now, as incredibly moving and, not coincidentally, communicative.

We speak all day long! We manipulate our tone, pitch and pace to indicate temperament and urgency. Composers manipulate the same factors (the building blocks of music, really) to inflect their music, so it's no surprise that a growing number of composers over the past 50 years are so have used recorded speech as a tool for composition, resulting in some of my favorite works out there.

This week on Nadia Sirota on Q2, we’re taking a tour of speech in music. From Lucier, Reich & Johnson, to Jacob TV and Paul Lansky, we’ll be exploring the sampled, processed voice.

In some ways, this technique is logical in a progression of 20th century techniques that consider non-musical elements in a musical light (see: Cage, Xenakis, all those Fluxus folks). I find few people taking offense to this one, however, in stark relief to, say, stochastic composition. Why do you think this is?

Why is speech so acceptable as sonic “found object?”

Florent Ghys: Homage à Jacob Ter Veldhaus

Hosted by:

Nadia Sirota

Comments [7]

Boy, I'll be humming this Michael Gordon all day, while I put some paint back on the walls here ... :-)

Mar. 11 2010 04:07 PM

How about an Eleanor Hovda retrospective some time soon?

Mar. 10 2010 11:03 PM
Christopher Caines from NYC

Hi, Nadia, You might explore in this light the music of Janacek; after a certain point, all his melodies are (so musicologists say) based on the speech melodies of the Czech language. You can really hear this in his operas. However, this approach had a profound effect on his instrumental music, too: consider In the Mist(s) [V Mlach], his last work for solo piano, one of my favorite pieces ever (and a score I once choreographed). Speech can be "sampled" without a sampler, so to speak...

Mar. 10 2010 08:34 PM

Welcome back, Nadia, and thanks for reading Stockhausen's dream to get us into this. Must have been something he ate. Quite cool, although heavy on fuel consumption in full performance. Carbon Offset City.

And re: the question of the week, isn't the attraction of processing voice usually that you can "load" a piece with the added meaning -- or purposeful nonsense -- that a word or phrase or sentence provides?

Mar. 10 2010 01:16 PM

Glad you are back, Helga did fine, it would be great if she also did a four hour gig.

This subject? Not so much.

Mar. 09 2010 09:15 PM
gary gach from left coast corner of the universe

¿ I wonder if you're going to spotlight anything by Pamela Z this week ? ( pamaelaz.com )

Mar. 09 2010 09:47 AM
gary gach from left coast

welcome back, nadia

interesting how the general vector of these compositions mesh words & music for a lively interchange that's closely paired, rather than many of the "poetry & jazz" gigs of the '50s & '60s which were like parallel lines never meeting (except in eternity).

looking forward to hearing what you pick from lansky, lucier, etc. as well complete surprises

as ever,
g g

Mar. 08 2010 03:28 PM

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