Voicespace I, III & IV
Philip Larson, baritone
Voices, language and space...
...they interested me even in the early sixties when I wrote The Emperor of Ice Cream for the ONCE Festivals in Ann Arbor. Since each of us knows so much about the behavior of the voice -- intimate endearments, rage at a distance -- it is an ideal vehicle for auditory spatial illusions (all the more when in the service of language and its powers of invocation). In the early 70s, at the Center for Music Experiment in La Jolla, I heard daily rehearsals of the Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble as they perturbed vocal norms. Evenings, I read my daughter to sleep trying to capture, for each character in the story, an individual and consistent vocal behavior. She was a demanding critic, and stimulated a good deal of nocturnal reflection about vocal identity. Electronics at first analogue, later digital systems offered rather precise control over auditory space (a particular sound’s size, location, distance, the character of the host space in which it was heard). I sought spare but evocative texts and tried to conjure up unfamiliar yet appropriate vocal behaviors with which to present them. The five works in the series thus far share a concern with the potential of auditory imaging: this is a subject still only tentatively broached. They attempt to create a personal theater through the mind’s ear. Yet they are distinct. Three of them are presented here. (Those missing are: A Merciful Coincidence [available on an earlier Lovely Music double 33 rpm album] and number five, The Vanity of Words [which can be heard on Wergo, Volume 4 WER 2024-50].).
The Palace is in some regards the most straightforward of the set, although it has novel aspects. A solo performer, alternating between countertenor and dramatic baritone registers, sings to the accompaniment of his own pre-recorded speaking voice. The Borges text was digitally recorded by Philip Larson; these sounds were analyzed and then processed in such a way as to emphasize their natural harmonic content and give them a supra-human scale. I took the palace of the poem as a metaphor for mental life itself, which, though not infinite, is comprised of myriad compartments, as numerous as the grains of sand in the Ganges. The text implied two extreme perspectives on the part of the narrating intelligence: active and reflective authority. The singer’s vocalise intimates something of the emotional impetus behind the speaker’s pronouncements, at first through a structured though indecipherable pseudo-language, gradually giving way to a more articulate song in which the final phrase is intelligible: I know that I am not dead. In this work, I had in mind not only the spaces that exist in the physical world, or that might be found in the ambiguities of spoken language, but those that one occasionally senses between the vitality of the message conceived in the mind and the often muted reality of the spoken words themselves.
Eclipse has an ambitious set of subjects: sun/moon, male/female. It began as a collage of text fragments from favorite authors. The hope was to induce the experience of the general form from a sufficiently dense superimposition of specifics (to interweave similar and yet discrete thoughts in such a way that their parsing became too difficult, that the mind wearied and wandered, but over a foreseen terrain). Phrases were collaged often in dense juxtaposition. Their original contexts contrasted markedly, yet they could be grouped together far more easily than one would have expected. Working with a male and a female reader, I suggested for each line a particular pacing and inflection, later editing these materials into a composite that is meant to evoke a wholeness between separate components that one cannot legislate with linear arguments. Not only vocal timing, sex, attitude, and style help to differentiate the parallel messages, but independent spatial orbits as well. Euphonious computer-synthesized sounds begin the work and enter occasionally thereafter, providing an extra-terrestrial reference. Eclipse explores textual heterophony and the subtleties of the mutual, unpredictable eclipsing of one thread of meaning by another as one’s attention (inevitably) is redirected.
Still, the earliest of the set, evolved through experiments with a variety of fanciful sonic perspectives (a soliloquy from within Lear’s mouth twilight on an arid, empty, limitless plane) and with the notion of positional motives. If a series of sounds issues from a particular sequence of positions in space, one might learn, I thought, to sense a new complement to the pitch, temporal, timbral, and dynamic characteristics of a musical line to be moved in an unfamiliar sense. The austere Coleridge text writhes in slow motion across the aspirate clicks of the performers’ ingressive vocal fry. The incidental air sounds produced by this vocal technique suggested wind as a central natural reference for Still.
Voicespace exists primarily as a set of quadraphonic tape compositions. For presentation on compact disc, the rear channels were folded over into the front, placed exclusively on the right or left and reverberated slightly. The front channels were panned towards the center, their high frequencies enhanced. The resulting trapezoidal configuration distorts, but allows one to infer a sense of, the original. Multiple listenings will allow, I hope, a fuller knowledge of these works than can be had from singular concert performances even though the recorded experience has less dimensional range.
-- Roger Reynolds
The Palace (Voicespace IV) (1980) (16:07)
Text: “The Palace” by Jorge Luis Borges (translated by Alastair Reid)
Voice: Philip Larson (pre-recorded materials and live performance)
Recording: Kip Sheeline (materials), Charles Seagrave (performance)
Technical assistance: Loren Rush, Gareth Loy, Tovar
The Palace is not infinite.
The walls, the ramparts, the gardens, the labyrinths, the staircases, the terraces, the parapets, the doors, the galleries, the circular or rectangular patios, the cloisters, the intersections, the cisterns, the anterooms, the chambers, the alcoves, the libraries, the attics, the dungeons, the sealed cells and the vaults, are not less in quantity than the grains of sand in the Ganges, but their number has a limit. From the roofs, toward sunset, many people can make out the forges, the workshops, the stables, the boatyards and the huts of the slaves.
It is granted to no one to traverse more than an infinitesimal part of the place. Some now only the cellars. We can take in some faces, some voices, some words, but what we perceive is of the feeblest. Feeble and precious at the same time. The date which the chisel engraves in the tablet, and which is recorded in the parochial registers, is later than our own death; we are already dead when nothing touches us, neither a word nor a yearning for a memory. I know that I am not dead.
-- by Jorge Luis Borges (translated by Alastair Reid)
“The Palace” from The Gold of the Tigers, Selected Later Poems by Jorge Luis Borges. English translation copyright (c) 1976, 1977 by Alastair Reid. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, E.P. Dutton, Inc.
Eclipse (Voicespace III) (1979) (16:10)
Text: a collage of fragments from Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Issa, James Joyce, Herman Melville, Wallace Stevens
Voices: Philip Larson, Carol Plantamura
Recording: Roger Reynolds
Technical assistance: Loren Rush
...the secret duty to define the moon...1
The obscure moon lighting an obscure world of things that would never be quite expressed...6
...the moon is a character created for the complex inditing of the rare thing we all are, multiple and unique...6
...the Arctic moonlight seemed illusive, faint, more mist than moon...6
...in the sun or the deceptive moonlight ...1
In the doubtful moon are all dreams, the unattainable, lost time, all possibles or impossibles...1
...sinking into the indulgences that in the moonlight have their habitude...6
The moonlight crumbled to degenerate forms.6
The moon is a quiet moon, Nevertheless -- 3
Trace the gold sun about the whitened sky without evasion by a single metaphor.6
He conceived his voyaging to be an up and down between two elements, a fluctuating between sun and moon, a sally into gold and crimson forms.6
her luminary reflection...
her constancy under all her phases,
rising and setting by her appointed times,
waxing and waning...
her power to enamor, to mortify,
to invest with beauty,
to render insane...
the tranquil inscrutability of her visage...
her omens of tempest and of calm...
the admonition of her craters,
her arid seas,
on the night the night of the quiet moon
on the night of the quiet moon he would be awakened
awakened by the fleeting train music he would be
her would be awakened by the fleeting train music of
Bruckner thunder dawns on the night of the quiet
of the quit moon he would be awakened by the fleeting
the fleeting fleeting by the fleeting train music of
Bruckner thunder dawns that brought on ruinous floods
floods ruinous floods and left the quiet moon of the
night on the night of the quiet moon he would be
awakened by the fleeting train music of Bruckner thunder
dawns that brought on ruinous floods and left a desolation
a desolation of tattered gowns of dead brides awakened
awakened by the fleeting night of the quiet
moon of the quiet night of the quiet of the quiet moon
he would be awakened on the night of the quiet moon he would be
awakened by the fleeting train music of
Bruckner thunder dawns that brought on ruinous floods
and left a desolation of tattered gowns of dead brides
on the branches of the almond trees on the branches
that brought on ruinous floods that brought on
ruinous floods and left a desolation and left floods
and left and left ruinous floods and left floods and
left and left and left floods and left a desolation
a desolation of tattered gowns of dead brides on the
branches of the almond trees of the quiet moon of the
night of the quiet night of the night of the night on
the night of the quiet moon he would be awakened by
the fleeting train music of Bruckner thunder dawns
that brought on ruinous floods and left a desolation
of tattered gowns of dead brides on the branches of
the almond trees at the former Dutch lunatic asylum...2
... a total eclipse of the sun...
It was such a true night in the middle of the day that the stars lit up, flowers closed, hens went to roost, and animals sought shelter with their best premonitory instincts...2
Why did the absence of light disturb him less than the presence of noise?4
...and as the ephemeral night broke up, the light of truth grew brighter...2
...like the true light of the truest sun...6
After the final no there comes a yes.6
No was the night. Yes is the present sun.6
...condemned us to live facing this limitless plain of harsh lunar dust where the bottomless sunsets pain us in our souls...2
Because of the surety of the sense of touch in his firm full masculine feminine passive active hand.4
...whose sinking is the intelligence of our sleep...6
...On land, meridional, a bispherical moon, revealed in imperfect varying phases of lumination through the posterior interstice of the imperfectly occluded skirt of a carnose negligent perambulating female...4
The sorrows of the sun, too, gone...the moon and moon, the yellow moon of words about the nightingale in measureless measures 6
...lost forever in the enigma of the eclipse...2
...the sun hides not...the millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath the moon...5
1 Jorge Luis Borges
2 Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4 James Joyce
5 Herman Melville
6 Wallace Stevens
* This passage has been extended from the original by a serial cycling.
Still (Voicespace I) (1975) (21:35)
to M, to Tu’m, to MM
Text from “The Wanderings of Cain” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Voice: Philip Larson
Windstorm: The Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble (1975) (Warren Burt, Ann Chase, Edwin Harkins, Deborah Kavasch, Philip Larson, Linda Vickerman)
Recording: Roger Reynolds
The scene around was desolate;
as far as the eye could reach it was desolate:
the bare rocks faced each other,
and left a long wide interval of thin white sand.
You might wander on and look round and round...
and discover nothing that acknowledged the influences of the seasons.
There was no spring, no summer, no autumn;
and the winter’s snow, that would have been so lovely, fell not...
The pointed and shattered summits of the ridges of the rocks
made a rude mimicry of human concerns, and seemed to prophesy mutely
of things that then were not.
...his countenance told in a...terrible language
of agonies that had been, and were,
and were still to continue to be.
-- from “The Wanderings of Cain” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)
Voicespace I was realized at the Center for Music Experiment, University of California, San Diego.
Voicespace III was realized at University of California, San Diego, Department of Music, utilizing some digitally synthesized and processed sounds from the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics.
Voicespace IV was realized at Stanford University’s Center for Research in Music and Acoustics, assembled and mixed at University of California, San Diego.
Voicespace I and IV were completed with the aid of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Voicespace I - V are published by C.F.Peters Corporation.
Digital editing: Joseph Kucera
Art Direction: Patrick Vitacco, By Design
c & P 1992 Lovely Music, Ltd.
LCD 1801 [A] [D] [D]