Musical Idea 9: Voxicity

12.01.2013 § Leave a comment

For me, one of the biggest differences between a musical voice that is actually humanly vocal and one that is driven by an instrument is the much greater variety of timbres one gets out of the former type. Certainly there are many ways to vary the timbre of ones pitches on a guitar, violin, piano, etc., but not nearly as much potential as with the human mouth. Can you even imagine attempting to found a language in the phonemes of any musical instrument? I can’t. Communicating words and ideas using instruments with significantly less direct and subtle control as we have over our own tongues, lips, cheeks, and throats would be quite the challenge.

By now you may have picked up on a current running through my musical ideas: look at one thing, look at its opposite, and explore the in-between. What I’m bringing up today I’ll call “voxicity,” the vocal-ness of a voice. In other words, let’s consider music in which voices which are singing are not clearly distinct from those which are playing, but where many are somewhat one but somewhat the other, or there is motion between the two categories. For purposes of voxicity, it is not even necessary for the more voxish voices to sound like humans, or articulate words (let alone meaning) in any language; all that is necessary is that some entities at some times exercise a variety of timbre as if speech, while others (continuous or not) exercise a conservation of timbral variety as if merely instrumental.

As for not sounding like humans: what is the human mouth with respect to speech, really, besides a chamber which changes shapes? The principals behind how the mouth shape affects sound are applied when designing instruments, just are more static. Basically we can create a synthesizer with knobs for adjusting completely abstracted phonetic ideas like place of articulation, whether pieces of the mouth-thing vibrate against each other, extremely tightly constrict air passage at points. Then give our performer superhuman ability to fiddle with all of those knobs. The composer is animating the aspects that constitute speech contrapuntally.

As for not articulating words: even if it’s total nonsense, completely abstract sound poetry, then the types of things you’re writing for are like do the voices use the same phonemes in unison, or do they echo each other, or neither?

Perhaps most voices seem instrumental, and voxicity only surfaces in one at a time. One instrument starts vaguely sound like it’s speaking using its machinery, then it starts to fade back into its normalcy, while simultaneously a different voice starts taking on the speech aspect. Almost like there’s a ghost or demon jumping from instrument to instrument, possessing it and gifting it the power of speech temporarily. Or perhaps the instruments just choose to call and answer from time to time in their words.

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