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Final Artistic Results – Orchestra of Speech

Final Artistic Results

The final presentation of artistic results from this project took place in Verkstedhallen in Trondheim on November 15, 2017. This event featured the “Orchestra of Speech” performance concept in three different versions, each of which invites different modes of listening and presents different approaches to form, time, sound and interaction. I arranged the room with a grand piano in the centre, loudspeakers in the corners, and all the transducer-instruments hanging from the ceiling above head height, so that the audience could move around during the installation and later take a seat wherever comfortable during the performances. During the ensemble performance, the additional musicians were placed along the walls, surrounding the audience with acoustic sound and in effect making them part of the event as a social situation as well.

Sound Installation

The first part of this concert featured the “orchestra of speech”-setup as a self-playing installation. The solo performance has really been the main format throughout this project, but as an experiment I wanted to try out a sound installation version of this concept in order to shift the focus away from the expectation of a certain narrative and dramaturgy that comes into play whenever a performer enters the stage. An installation allows listeners to move around and structure their own experience, both in time, as well as in space in relation to the orchestra as an entity in the room.

The musical content and behavior of the installation is controlled by scripting cue-lists, handling all aspects of playback and orchestration otherwise performed live. The micro-compositions presented by these scripts revolve around one musical idea at a time, usually for about five to eight minutes before changing.

Like the solo performance setup, the installation also features a way to interact with the speech-music material. An analogue telephone set connected to the system rings from time to time, inviting members of the audience to pick up the phone and interact with the orchestra by speaking to it. The phone conversation as a social phenomenon is special in that it is the only commonplace experience where we communicate and interpret solely by voice. As such it seemed interesting to be able to interact with the otherwise disembodied recorded voices through the familiar interface of an old telephone, provoking nonsensical but somehow musically probable responses from the system.

Even though the installation format invites other readings than the conventional concert situation, I still think of this primarily as music and not as conceptual sound art. The use of a telephone in particular might seem like a way of staging a very theatrical situation. My intention however, was primarily to facilitate the curious experience of interacting with this speech/music-machine through one’s voice, with speech recordings played back into the telephone receiver and simultaneously orchestrated as musical phrases on the speaker-instrument orchestra. This experience can also be related to our future prospects (and fears) of having to communicate with machines that apparently understand the non-verbal underlying emotional communicative layers of speech as well.

The use of a telephone set also creates an interesting situation for the remaining spectators who are unable to hear the voice in the telephone receiver. From their point of view, the exchange looks almost like a dialogue between the speaker and the orchestra, as a kind of meta-dialogue between speech and music with the telephone acting as the literal line of communication between these phenomena.

Sound installation (1 hour reduced to 8 min)

Solo performance

The next part of the performance presented the “orchestra of speech” system as a solo instrument. This has been the main working performance format throughout the project development, and the one that most clearly reflects the ideas of the project. In the solo setup, the software system is complemented with a piano, used both as a musical counterpart in the overall orchestral texture but also providing musical input for the system. Used this way, the piano can trigger responses and act as a dialogical partner for the artificial orchestra, with which I in turn can explore the whole continuum between the discrete stylized musical structures of the piano and the continuous flowing gestures of speech.

Video: Alice Winnberg

With this performance, I feel that I have reached the level of control where I succeed in integrating my practice as a performer and improviser with the new ideas developed throughout this project. I think the performance sums up the project well and manages to convey the topics that have been central to the project: the connection between conversation and improvisation; the musical character of speech genres; soundscape and sound sources as meaningful; and the idea of interrelations between speech and music in general.

Ensemble improvisation

The last part of this concert was an ensemble improvisation. Like the installation, this version was mainly included as an experiment, exploring how this performance concept developed as a solo format might work in a musical discourse together with other improvising musicians. In this experiment, I wanted to bring the speech material back into a dialogical setting that could perhaps also draw attention to musical ensemble improvisation as a fundamentally social situation. The added ensemble consisted of three vocalists, all with optional microphones and one with additional electronics, and three acoustic instruments with no amplification – acoustic drums, cello and contrabass. This instrumentation was chosen to mirror the project’s existing themes of acoustic/electronic, vocal/instrumental and speech/music.

Video: Alice Winnberg. Performers: Daniel Formo (piano and electronics); Heidi Skjerve (vocals); Tone Åse (vocals and electronics); Sissel Vera Pettersen (vocals); Marianne Baudouin Lie (cello); Michael Francis Duch (bass); Ola Djupvik (drums).

Even though the solo format has been the main performance concept throughout this project, I think it was interesting to see what happened when expanded into a larger ensemble. Both conceptually, as a dialogical parallel to the interplay going on in the recorded conversations, but also musically how this changes the experience and the resulting music.

In this improvised ensemble performance, the focus clearly shifted towards a more diverse improvisational discourse featuring more musical subjects and less overall unity. Some of the musicians reported that it was very interesting to engage in new kinds of interplay, not only with the other performers but also with the voices and sounds embodied in the speaker-instrument hybrids of the orchestra system. Another interesting change was the increased effect of blending and merging of sounds and soundscapes, blurring the line between electric, acoustic, virtual and physical sound, to the point where it sometimes was hard to discern where sounds were coming from.

Most of these musicians had previously been involved in my project in one way or another, either in performances or small studio experiments, but this was the first time gathered as a larger ensemble. The resulting lack of a common reference is perhaps why this performance had an overall tentative, searching character, with less clear direction and initiative than the solo performance. That is only natural for a first performance, as any encounter in unchartered territory. Nevertheless, I think the experiment clearly shows that it is possible to use the performance concept developed in this project outside its original conception as a solo format, and that it opens up a great field of opportunities to be explored further in the future.


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