A Virtual Oratorio
The Division of Labour
THE DIVISION OF LABOUR
15 variations on a sacred text.
“A workman not educated to the
business could scarce make one pin a day. But one man draws out the
wire, another straightens it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it,
a fifth grinds it at the top. The head requires three distinct operations.
To put it on is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins another.
In this manner, making a pin is divided into eighteen distinct operations,
and those persons can make forty-eight thousand pins a day.”
Adam Smith : The Wealth of Nations
Human lives become the instruments of a spectacular materialism.
|| 11. Perturbations
|3. Song without words
|| 8. Word dance I
|| 13. Liquidation/Toll
|| 9. Compression
|| 14. Hubbub
|| 10. Word dance II
with the voice of Alex Gordon
A woman remembers some of those inconsequential yet special experiences
which define an individual life.
with the voice of Mary Smith.FABULOUS PARIS
By the year 2010, more than 50% of the world’s population will
live in cities of over a million inhabitants. Approaching that
exciting yet frightening labyrinth of information and experience which
is the modern mega-city, “Fabulous Paris” is first encountered
as the prize destination on an American TV game show, but soon becomes
the mysterious city of our dreams, hopes and fears.
With the voices of Neil Armstrong, President Kennedy,
Adolf Hitler and many others.
This 3-movement, secular oratorio explores our collective and individual
experience of the mass industrial society in which we live, through the
medium of the human voice.
Apart from the final post-production mix of the
final movement (Birmingham University Studio), ‘Fabulous
Paris, the Oratorio’ was
made entirely on a PC or laptop, using the Composers Desktop Project
software, either at home or (for the initial work on ‘Angel’)
in residence in Toronto.
The Division of Labour
The text describes the division of labour in
a Scottish pin factory. Adam Smith was Professor of Logic at the University
of Glasgow and the text here is spoken with a Glaswegian accent. A
sequence of sonic “divisions” follows.
Imitation: The text vowels are synthesized and combined
with the original consonants (resonated). The material plays in canon
in 2 parts, then 4, then (at the end) very many.
Song Without Words: The pitch contour of the speech
is played as a sliding triad, with the original consonants superimposed,
ornamented by traffic sirens, kookaburras and starlings (the only extraneous
sounds in this movement).
Inflation: Speech syllables
are extended in time, through different types of time-stretching, ‘bouncing’ transformations,
imitation or rhythmic repetition.
Hocket: The syllables of the text are each time-contracted
and set in a regular pulse. Eight copies are hocketed against one another,
then forced through a filter-bank of their most prominent pitches.
Chorus: The choral sonorities derive from instantaneous
harmonies cut from Word Dance I. Against this, we hear vastly time-stretched
syllables, pulsated and panned.
Flecks: Isolated slices of the text are revealed, often
derived from sharp cuts into the trailing edges of syllables.
Word Dance I: Irregular loops of speech material, and
'bouncing' syllables develop in an agitated rhythm.
Compression: The text, extremely time-contracted, pans
around the space, sometimes emerging from a spectrally blurred and time-stretched
Word Dance II: Syllables are looped at a regular speed,
with simple polyrhythms and imitation, emphasizing the harmonic qualities
of the speech-segments.
Perturbation: Successive text elements read back and
forth in time, are combined with rapidly panning individual syllables,
sometimes evolving in colour, pitch or articulation.
Permutation: The original text phrases reappear but
with their syllables rearranged in meaningless sequence.
Liquidation: A dense mass of
syllables from the text ‘breathes’ through
two alternating tuned filters. Beneath this, the words of the text are
spectrally-traced so their most prominent partials bubble through the
Toll: A sequence of syllables
in descending pitch order is chosen from the text. As this falling
sequence repeats, the pitches are focused through filters tuned to
each particular syllable, becoming more invasive on each repetition.
A second filter is tuned to all the text pitches. The words eventually
dissolve, generating the metallic ‘peel
Hubub: Toll continues over layers of Imitation, Song
without Words, with extracts from Word Dance II, Chorus and
Trace: A trace of the pitch and vowel colour of the
original text remains, with a faint echo of the changing rhythm of the
speech in the tremulations of the sound.
Work on this movement made possible by an AHRB Creative
Arts Fellowship at the University of Birmingham Music Dept.
My aunt, Mary Smith, was a very religious woman.
In the face of personal difficulty or suffering she remained irrepressibly
optimistic. A friend’s
eulogy at her funeral concluded, “We shall all remember Mary Smith.
She was an angel.” And this was meant to be taken literally.
The movement originates in recordings of my aunt
made by my wife some years earlier, as part of a family history project,
using a mono cassette recorder. Special processes were used to clean
these recordings and isolate my aunt’s voice. The melodic contours
of the speech, and the resulting harmonic fields, were extracted and
then used to synthesize accompanying materials, to define time-changing
filters applied either to the voice or to the synthesis of choir-like
textures, to specify the pitch-sequence of accompanying sounds, and
so on, using software written for the purpose. A number of other detailed
voice transformations are also used.
Angel was commissioned by the 2006 Deep Wireless Festival,
This movement, the earliest composed, uses recordings
made in many cities - the traffic tunnels of Stockholm, the Paris metro,
an amusement park in Kobe… - voices from American TV adverts and game-shows (recorded
whilst working at Allen Strange’s San Jose studio in the early
80s), traffic announcements on the California freeways (recorded, at
my request, by the sound-poet Larry Wendt), the voices of astronauts,
President Kennedy, Adolf Hitler and others.
The piece aims to organise a dense web of spoken information and environmental
sounds, using many software instruments, in particular, filters tuneable
to time-changing harmonies, developed specifically for this movement.
It falls into 3 distinct sections, with brief pauses between them, the
3rd section recapitulating the first but dissolving the hum of the City
into the sounds of the natural world.
Fabulous Paris was commissioned
by Swedish Radio, Malmö,
and the Birmingham Rumours Festival.