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Computer Music Study 2: Music based on synthetic electronic sound

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Paul Lansky (born 1944) is an American composer, pioneering sound synthesis with computers since the mid-1960s. After 2004, he concentrated on instrumental composition without any electronic involvement.

Sounds originating from “real-world” sources are the predominant focus of Lansky’s computer music: traffic, kids in the kitchen, musical instruments, and most of all speech. Electronic synthesis is frequently used but the main sonic resources are transformations of recorded natural sounds.

Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion

One of his first large pieces, Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion (1979) set the stage. It is based on a reading by his wife Hannah MacKay of Thomas Campion’s famous poem Rose cheekt Lawra, which was published in 1602 as part of a treatise entitled Observations in the Art of English Poesie:

Rose-cheekt Lawra, come,
Sing thou smoothly with thy beawties
Silent musick, either other
Sweetely gracing.
Lovely formes do flowe
From concent devinely framed;
Heav’n is musick, and thy beawties
Birth is heavenly.
These dull notes we sing
Discords neede for helps to grace them;
Only beawty purely loving
Knowes no discord;
But still mooves delight,
Like cleare springs renu’d by flowing,
Ever perfect, ever in them-
selves eternall.

The piece is a study of the contours of a live reading of the poem. In the Six Fantasies, the employment of electronic sound manipulation is not so much as a tool for creating yet-unheard sound, but rather introspectively, as a means of exploring the sonic environment of everyday human experience. A technique known as linear predictive coding (LPC) is used in the work. LPC was developed in the 1960s by scientists as a data-reduction technique meant to economize on the amount of data needed for digital voice transmission and is used today in some cell phone communication. It allows for the separation of pitch and speed and the pitch contours of the speech can be altered independently of the speed. Each of the six movements explores a different aspect of speech and is achieved by computer synthesized tape. The six pieces are, respectively:

  1. her voice
  2. her presence
  3. her reflection
  4. her song
  5. her ritual
  6. her self

According to Paul Lansky’s Homepage on

Speech and song are commonly considered different and distinct – as apples and oranges. It is my feeling, however, that they are more usefully thought of as occupying opposite ends of a spectrum, encompassing a wealth of musical potential. This fact has certainly not been lost on musicians: sprechstimme, melodrama, recitative, rap, blues, etc., are all evidence that it is a lively domain.

Six Fantasies is my exploratory journey through this terrain. Each of the fantasies attempts to musically transform a single reading by Hannah MacKay of a well-known poem by Thomas Campion, and to musically highlight some aspect of her speech: contour, vowels, resonance, articulation, consonants, etc., explicating the implicit music within. The final fantasy largely reproduces the original reading, and it is my hope that by the time this rolls by that her speech will sound like music.


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