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.  

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