Speak Up

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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