Unreal Nature

January 19, 2018

A Human Being Is Personified by His or Her Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… When that persona begins to spread and multiply and come apart … there’s a very strong identification of a human being going through this uncommon magic.

This is from Writings on Music 1965-2000 by Steve Reich (2002). This is from the ‘Early Works (1965-68)’ section of the book:

… By using recorded speech as a source of electronic or tape music, speech-melody and meaning are presented as they naturally occur. It is quite different from setting words to music where one has to fit a number of syllables to a number of notes and decide what their melodic relation will be. In speech, questions of how many notes to a syllable or what their melody will be do not arise; the speech just comes out. Instead of setting words to music, I simply chose the exact segments of recorded speech I was intuitively drawn to as musical material. My original interest in electronic music was the possibility of working with recorded speech.

… I remember it seemed disappointing that tape music, or musique concrète as it was called, usually presented sounds that could not easily be recognized when what seemed interesting to me was that a tape recorder recorded real sounds like speech as a motion picture camera records real images. If one could present that speech without altering its pitch or timbre one would keep the original emotional power that speech has while intensifying its melody and meaning through repetition and rhythm.

Constant repetition through tape loops produces just such a rhythmic intensification.

… I discovered that the most interesting music of all was made by simply lining the loops up in unison, and letting them slowly shift out of phase with each other. As I listened to this gradual phase shifting process, I began to realize that it was an extraordinary form of musical structure. This process struck me as a way of going through a number of relationships between two identities without ever having any transitions. It was a seamless, uninterrupted musical process.

In retrospect, I understand the process of gradually shifting phase relationships between two or more identical repeating patterns as an extension of the idea of infinite canon or round. Two or more identical melodies are played with one starting after the other as in traditional rounds, but in the phase shifting process the melodies are usually much shorter repeating patterns and the time interval between one melodic pattern and its imitation(s), instead of being fixed, is variable. Nevertheless, that this new process bears close family resemblance to the thirteenth century musical idea of round seems to give it some depth. Good new ideas generally turn out to be old.

… The experience of that musical process is, above all else, impersonal; it just goes its way. Another aspect is its precision; there is nothing left to chance whatsoever. Once the process has been set up it inexorably works itself out.

… I realized it was more interesting than any one particular relationship because it was the process (of gradually passing through all the canonic relationships) making an entire piece and not just a moment in time.

… Using the voice of individual speakers is not like setting a text — it’s setting a human being. A human being is personified by his or her voice. If you record me, my cadences, the way I speak are just as much me as any photograph of me. When other people listen to that they feel a persona present. When that persona begins to spread and multiply and come apart … there’s a very strong identification of a human being going through this uncommon magic.

-Julie

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