Making music from human speech


I have written about the work of artist and composer, Noah Wall, on Boing Boing before (here and here). In his latest project, Types of speechNoah draws his music from the rhythm, tone and timbre of the human voice using sources such as the voices of Octavia Butler, Michel Foucault, a cattle auctioneer, people speaking in tongues and ASMR.

Each limited-edition LP and cassette features hand-stamped cover art using shapes derived from Types of speech rating.

From the liner notes:

Starting with a phone message left by the late Michael Evans, Noah took a bunch of YouTube videos of conversations and speeches, put the audio through Melodyne (an auto-tuning app), then saved the results as a document. MIDDAY. From there, it streamed the data to various MIDI instruments to replicate the source conversation’s pitch conversions. The material is stretched, looped and manipulated in various ways to achieve true polyphony that belies its monophonic origins. Even more than concrete music, the results seem completely cut off from their primary source, since here another layer of representation is eliminated by erasing the content of the speeches, instead of using a recognizable sound like a train, for example, or anything whose sound only signifies the object itself rather than additionally conveying a linguistic meaning. Sometimes they are deliberately contrary to their source material, as in the sinister “ASMR”, a stark contrast to the intentionally soothing, semi-whispery female voice from which it is drawn. The music is surprisingly melodic, given its backstory, but Noah’s former one-man band, Jukeboxer, demonstrated their abilities as a melody-maker; Types of speech is the logical product of the same mind behind the Jukeboxer songs as well as the subversive masterstroke of making anagrams of every Brian Eno/Peter Schmidt Oblique Strategy card (Grotesque Paintings II). The polyrhythms of the music, derived from the cadences of the phrasing of the speakers, indicate a parallel between polyrhythm and dialogue, while recalling the vertiginous Conlon Nancarrow Studies for player piano and Frank Zappa’s “While You Were Art II” (a Synclavier reading of a transcription of one of his guitar solos).

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Images: Noah Wall promotional images.


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