Encounters in the Republic of Heaven
From Firenze University Press Journal: Music/Technology
Encounters is an exploration of the music inherent in everyday speech. Unlike Globalalia, however, the aim of this project was to capture the musical features of speech at the level of the spoken phrase, its melody and rhythm, and the sonority of individual speaking voices, that indefinable yet recognisable something that enables us to distinguish one person from another. I especially wanted to capture both the diversity of human expression, and the sense of an entire community of speakers, a poetic snapshot of the diversity of human life.As the piece would attempt to encapsulate this community of speech, I decided to work in 8-channel sound-surround, so that the audience would be embraced within this community. I had worked in 4-channel sound-surround in the past (Anticredos and Vo x), but when the 4-channel analogue tape-format died in the late 1980s I found it increasingly difficult to perform any of my 4-channel analogue works, and became cautious about embracing multichannel formats. Hence my works over the previous 20 years had been in stereo format, which could be expanded in performance by appropriate diffusion over multi-loudspeaker systems (see the chapter on Diffusion).For Encounters I both modified my compositional tools to operate in (any) multi-channel format, and developed new tools specifically for this work e.g. multichannel sound-spatialisation software. Also, the award of the Giga-Herz Grand Prize in 2008 enabled me to re-equip my studio to work in 8-channel sound, so I was able to experience directly the sound-surround output of the piece. This was essential to composing the work, as electro-acoustic composition relies crucially on the direct feedback of listening to the created sound output.
Origins of the Project: The Source Material
The composition of Encounters posed quite different problems from Globalalia. To capture a diversity of human speech across an entire community I would need to:
- find people who would agree to have their voice recorded;
- make many recordings, to capture a wide range of vocal styles and colours;
- capture natural speech (i.e. not the voices of actors, media presenters, or inter-viewees).
The original idea was to make the piece around my home county of Yorkshire, in the North of England, where I might at least be accepted as a (possibly slightly eccen-tric) local. But even here, it’s not possible to simply wander up to someone in a pub and, out of the blue, ask to record their voice. And to get a representative cross-section of vocal ‘colours’, you would need to make many more recordings than would finally be used, involving lots of recording time and the logistics and expense of record-ing equipment, materials and travel, all of which required funding of some kind. I couldn’t see any practical way to proceed, so I demoted the project to my wishlist.Then, in 2006, the 3-year post of Composer-in-Residence based at the University of Durham was announced. Funded partly by the University and partly by the Arts Council, this job involved obligations both to teach students and to work within the local community, but its primary purpose was to provide the opportunity for a composer to pursue musical composition. For very particular reasons the Durham department was also keen to appoint an electro-acoustic musician. This seemed the ideal opportunity to realise my project in the North, particularly as work in the local community would be an essential part of it.
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