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piano 505

CD cover image voiceworks -david cunningham

image from 'The Sound of these Words' -Stephen Partridge

loops, treatments and musicology:

Much of the music on Voiceworks is organised and manipulated through electronic processes. My intentions were to attempt to combine and contrast music that used and explored various degrees of self-referential structural and compositional elements and their interactions; to allow automatic processes to force me into new musical territories.

One of the main techniques used throughout the music is a tape delay system made by threading a reel of tape through the record head of one tape recorder and across to the replay head of an adjacent machine. The replayed sound is returned to the input of the first machine and goes through the system, replaying and decaying over and over again, the length of the delay being determined by the physical length of tape between the heads of the two tape recorders.

The system is used throughout Voiceworks in various guises, usually in a modified form. I don't think the original 'purist' version of the technique is ever used. The system invites the player to work reactively to what is happening. In much of the music the dynamic is reversed in such a way that the delays build rather than decay and the player is asked to work from anticipation rather than expectation. This is done by using prepared tapes of backwards sound sources to play into the system with the intention that the recorded result will be replayed backwards, allowing the component sounds to appear forwards within a reversed structure. This is partly a device to disorientate me during the making of this material (I can't think backwards) so that the result has an intuitive feel, a human touch, but the logic is unusual.

I also use a modified version of the system with an internal short repeat which allows me to recycle fragments within an overall delay cycle. These two techniques together are probably heard at their clearest on 'Canta'. There is yet another version of the system, complex to describe but simple in operation, which involves the delay timed to the overall cycle of a pulse which is driving a noise gate controlling the system input, best heard at the end of 'Engine Shadow' or 'Engine Definite' and on the voice treatment which governs the structure of 'Magic Words'.

One principle behind the use of these systems is to try and keep the whole acoustic space very undefined and mysterious, as befits a recording.

This principle is developed within the 'Four Songs' section of Voiceworks. An internal contrast of acoustic situations highlights that aspect of the work, a cross-section of of artificial spaces from the completely false to the convention (which is still only relative) of the acoustic situation on classical recordings. The other reason for this section was to combine the vocabularies of the 'Masks and Voices' and 'Canta' sections of the CD with more formal musical shape.

The structure of 'Collective' is a very inexact machine (rather medieval in conception and mechanics) for exploring the permutations of one sound. One looped sound (the loop includes a section of silence) plays at four different speeds so that the relationship of harmony and rhythm (pitch and time) is exposed and becomes the dominant element of the structure.

Much of this work is implicitly about the decoding process, active and passive reading, playing the brain's perceptual mechanisms. The approach is essentially experimental, to intiate a process and let it flow, the nature of the process thereafter determining the structure of the work. This is conceptually similar and derived from John Cage's experimental work which introduces a very high number of variables into scores with the only moderation that this apparent randomness be accepted and not interfered with; creating a situation of what Cage calls 'a natural complexity'. The difference in my work lies in at attempt to maintain a recognizable structural relationship between the situation and the process. This involves significant consideration of the structure of a work: which elements are prescribed, which are variables, how these variables will interact and feed back into the main system.

David Cunningham 1994

see also: a short history of the tape delay:
return to voiceworks
see also: ext.night
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© david cunningham 1996