the past must be Invented
____the future Must be
__the present Is
While browsing around archive.org, I came across a recording of a conversation between John Cage and Morton Feldman, which was originally part of a “radio happening” event at WBAI in New York on October 24, 1967. It sounded like an informal and relaxed exchange of ideas between two old friends and I was immediately mesmerized by the sound and tone of their voices, the pace, silences, the sound of breathing, smoking, laughter…
The “musical” aspect of the tape was even more magical and fascinating to me than the contents of the conversation, which as I expected from years of reading both men’s writings, are deep and insightful ideas about music, art, philosophy and society. Yet was the soundscape created by this particular human interaction that really fascinated me. I decided to use sound bites of the conversation as the basic material of the piece I was invited to submit for the process series.
I love the sound and rhythm of speech and how each language has it’s own particular acoustical characteristics. The English language, because of the irregular durations of its successive syllables, has a certain “syncopated” feel about it which I always found very musical. In this case, I also liked the contrast between the two styles of speaking: Feldman is loud, emphatic, declamatory (what a huge contrast with his music!), while Cage is soft, almost monotone with few, carefully placed accents.
I began by overlapping some fragments of spoken voice with different musical ideas, focusing on the temporal dimension: durations of events unfolding in time, levels of periodicity, static and dynamic moments, expansion/compression. Most importantly, working on the silences or “spaces between” (ma), trying to challenge the listener’s perception of musical time while at the same time trying to “accept” the beauty of the sounds rather than forcing them into some preconceived, abstract structural framework.
The music part came from digitally processing/molding an acoustic piece that I wrote and recorded a few years ago for piano, classical and electric guitars, viola da gamba and soprano saxophone.
At times, with its nonperiodic rhythms, the music attempts to imitate speech (although, in the field of perception, the rhythms employed in the music part are statistical, therefore unpredictable, while speech always retains a certain degree of predictability in its temporal patterns). Other times, periodic rhythms (chronometric time) come to the foreground and become clearly perceivable, often because of the use of short loops. Between these two extremes, there are several intermediate areas of temporal ambiguity, as in the case of polymetric and polytempo passages.
As a metaphor for the overall form of the piece, one could imagine the spoken voices as characters on a journey across different musical regions, or states . The music, like a landscape, changes… sometimes gradually, other times abruptly in the background. On the journey the landscape helps the characters reveal their own inner melody.
The spoken words, separated from their original context, lose their literal meaning. Will the listener give his own semantic interpretation, or leave them “free of meaning”, as pure sound ?
As Edgar Varese said: “The last word is imagination!”.
In the end, I also like to think of this piece as my humble, and somewhat nostalgic, tribute to John Cage and Morton Feldman, two giants of 20th century music, whose vision continues to be a source of inspiration and enlightenment well into the present.