Developing a repertoire

Developing a repertoire

During my first few attempts at live performances with this project I quickly experienced a few things: unlike improvising in a familiar musical setting on a traditional musical instrument, the combination of building and learning a new digital instrument and developing a new musical concept made it too complex to just start playing and come up with a coherent stretch of music. I found myself simultaneously working on many different ideas related to speech genre, content, source and context, to compositional musical ideas and structures, to soundscape and space, perception of time, meaning and connotations of sounds and sound sources, and the social aspect of musical performances. This project brought so many new elements into play that I needed a more structured approach.
Improvisation has always been a method to discover, generate and refine musical material and that was my plan for this project as well. But an additional compositional stage to try to sort and organize this material became necessary in order to build a repertoire ready for improvisation.

Earlier I had tried to define the musical ideas in this project in terms of continua between opposites, constituting dimensions in a space to explore. Although this was appropriate for some ideas, not all was best thought of as spatial dimensions, and so I came down with a few different categories of significance instead:

– Speech genre
– Perception of time (narrative forward motion, interactive now of dialogue, static, repetition)
– Sound source: voice, speaker, instrument, acoustic, synthetic.
– Formal organization: structured thoughts (speech), structured sounds (music)
– Traditional musical parameters: layers (polyphony), instrumentation, density, register, tempo, dynamics, continuity, etc.

The many ideas I had developed earlier through improvisation were then organized within the framework of these main categories, and from that I composed the broader form of a piece still leaving the details to be improvised.


Sketch of composition

The piece consists of five main parts which explores different aspects of time perception, different kinds of speech genres, and different musical ideas, orchestrations and soundscapes:

Part 1: LINES
Time concept: forward motion through a continuous stream of speech.
Source material / speech genre: social interaction in reality-TV.
Soundscape: Speaker mediated speech is abstracted and moved to acoustic instruments, different rhythmical layers (syllables, accents, stress, phrases) orchestrated out to different instruments, more and more stylized like musical figures (smoothing tempo, pitch and adding diminutions and augmentations), before returning to the free flow of continuous speech.

Time concept: accentuated present, interaction between performer and machine, music and speech.
Source material / speech genre: paralanguage and telephone conversations.
Soundscape: Live acoustic piano against speaker mediated speech. Develops from interactive dialogue through musical association to polyphonic texture: a crowd where each individual voice disappears. The crowd is then drawn out and abstracted as a frozen time chordal texture.

Part 3: SPACE
Time concept: static, stationary, space rather than time.
Source material / speech genre: intimate thoughtful conversations.
Soundscape: Sparsely orchestrated parts across the room, blending both speech recordings, synthesized sound and acoustic instrument in a wide open soundscape.

Part 4: RHYTHM
Time concept: repetitive present.
Source material / speech genre: representative, non-personal radio broadcasts.
Soundscape: acoustic drums. Isolated similar syllables makes a rhythmic web accompanied by a metronome measuring the mean pulse. Switching between repetitions and narration and gradually adding more and more subdivisions it develops and culminates into a dense distorted electroacoustic soundscape, a raw mass of sound that stripped of any resemblance with speech still conveys some phrasal gestures.

Part 5: PAUSES
Time concept: the gaps, continuous afterthought between utterances.
Source material / speech genres: dignified official speech, characterized by long pauses between statements.
Soundscape: spatial arpeggii in acoustic cymbals fills in and sets music to the pauses, articulating the gaps between utterances and their imprint on the aural memory. The sound of a gong and the dark drone background adds to the ritual character of this speech genre.

Shorthand score for performance

Shorthand score for performance