Tuesday, February 02, 2010
A is for Alphabet
Ron Kuivila's Alphabet (1982), an electronic "setting" of the title made rhythmic, harmonic, and polyphonic by a canny use of off-the-self electronics, is a reminder of the power of arbitrary arrangements — in this case the conventional sequence of letters — and the compositional utility of balancing the logical with the arbitrary and conventional. Letters, in English, are themselves abstractions, holding places for collections — and often inconsistent — of linguistic sounds or constituent parts thereof, making the ordering into an alphabet an abstraction once more removed. The sampled text is played through a pair of Casio VL-tones with their outputs going through a phase locked loop that would lock at a higher partial driven by the partials of a single oscillator, which multiplies the sampled word by small whole-numbered ratio, creating an integrated complex of pitch, rhythm and timbre (the integration of pitch and rhythm is not unlike the proportionate Harmonium pieces of James Tenney); the whole texture reinforces the harmonic substance of the text, itself composed of vowels with simple harmonic partials, yet selected and arranged in the word-internal ordering which tradition has given us. A useful reminder of the how closely the organs for linguistic and musical perception and cognition are shared, yet how much musical potential can be heard in their differences.