Music as a Second Language
"God is perhaps not so much a region beyond knowledge as something prior to the sentences we speak."
— Michel Foucault
Hidden beneath speech's words and music's melodies I hear the singing of a voice more ancient than language. Brain's secret convulsions making muscles articulate, shaking the world with a song now lost to us except perhaps in laughter, giving birth at last to a duality of sound and meaning. Now we can write or read, compose or listen, speak and converse even about our words themselves. No longer are we aware that as we speak our voices rise and fall, following the deeper contours of speech melodies that prefigure our sense and our meanings. Even our music ceased long ago to sing these melodies, following instead the steady course of harmonic progression. Still, as we read a text, we must reconstruct the melodies of the writer to grasp the meaning. Still, we code our feelings in the melody of our speech. And still, as our leaders talk, hearing not the words but the music, we sing our quiet selves into a sleep of understanding. The whistles of the birds in our nose, the creaking door which closes a phrase, the measured pause which precedes a two-beat putdown – all these underlie the choice and order of our words. These are the ghosts in grammar's basement.
In many of my recent songs for synthesized voice I have treated speech melodies as musical material. By a process of computer analysis and resynthesis I extract the melodic line of spoken language, involve it in a variety of compositional transformations, and apply the result to digital musical instruments. Along the way, the original voice becomes more or less disembodied, but retains much of the original spirit and meaning. With the computer analysis model I can alter voicing – changing the speech into drones of whispers, articulation rate – speeding or slowing the speech independent of pitch, as well as a variety of other effects, many of which sound unfamiliar but agree with the kinematics of the vocal tract. As I compose, I listen and I think. I choose vocal sources which interest me, particularly the voices of evangelists, hypnotists and salesmen because of their great confidence and enthusiasm.
— Paul De Marinis
Lecon par l'aiguille — from a language instruction record of the 1930's. Prof. Paul Passy teaches his listeners to sing the French language. A few glissandi track the trajectories of his speech melody.
Fonetica Francese — a modern remake of the above in which the melodies of the synthetic voice are conformed to the underlying harmonies by a process of melodic quantization.
Odd Evening — from a Chinese radio play. The rhythms and melodies of speech are mirrored by their musical doubles.
An Appeal — a fit of legal dictation plagued by spurious vocal melodies.
The Sand Clock — the poet reminds us to share some small joy in memory of the love we once shared.
Cincinnati 1830-1850 — a solo from a longer collaboration with Laetitia Sonami based on Siegfried Giedion's Mechanization Takes Command.
The Power of Suggestion — the opening number from a performance cycle based on the voices of hypnotists, evangelists & salesmen. In live performance a hacked "Power Glove" enables the hand to manipulate the audience by singing/signing the voice of the hypnotist.
Beneath the Numbered Sky — based on an Indonesian folk song. As darkness falls, a mother sings her children to sleep, weaving a spell of protection around the home. As she sings, she is transformed into a large bird and soars through the starry heavens with her lover.
Art Direction and Design: By Design
Digital editing and mastering by Allan Tucker, Foothill Productions, NYC.
Thanks to Laetitia Sonami, Agnes Charlesworth, Bob Bilecki, Ben Azarm and Sam Ashley, Alex Noyes, the Harvestworks Artist-in-Residence program and Studio PASS, The Exploratorium, The LAB, Opcode Systems, Inc.
This project was supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Copyright c 1991 Paul De Marinis, BMI
© P 1991 Lovely Music, Ltd.
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