Computer Music Currents 4

Available at:
Schott Music

The Vanity of Words (1986)
Computer processed vocal sounds
by Roger Reynolds

Other composers on disc:
David Evan Jones, Michel Decoust, Charles Dodge, Jean-Baptiste Barrière, Trevor Wishart

Liner notes by Roger Reynolds

Primary Artist(s): Philip Larson, Baritone

Label: Wergo WER 2024-50

Recording and engineering: John Stevens (1989)

About The Vanity of Words:

During 1985 and 86, I composed two extended pieces of computer music using F.R. Moore's cmusic unit generator, Space, and the editorial algorithms SPLITZ and SPIRLZ. The first, Vertigo, was based upon performed piano sounds, the second, The Vanity of Words, employs vocalist Philip Larson's reading and singing of a text that I extracted from Milan Kundera's novel, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” These two compositions explore the effect of spatially controlled differentiation on musical and speech materials both from structural and expressive perspectives. The basic materials were recorded as performed so that it would be possible for me to capture and then use compositionally the interpretative volition which performers superimpose upon musical notation's objective specifications.

My adaptation of Kundera's text falls into three sections. Larson read each in a distinctive manner (aspirate, deeply intoned, and declamatory). A few sung phrases were also recorded. Such distinctions help to differentiate the proportional design of the composition, its transformational mosaic formal plan. Each “tile” of the musical mosaic is custom-designed. So too are their successions, so that groups of tiles exhibit larger trends, both in terms of temporal structure and spatial character. The spatialization of multiple, simultaneous layers of textual fragments markedly improves their intelligibility. It mitigates the degree to which coincident, or nearly coincident elements obscure one another as well as the success with which a listener can register and apprehend successive fragments that occur with extreme rapidity. Perhaps an analogy with the disctions between normal photographs and holographic representation could be made. On successive encounters with sound materials presented in this fragmentary, layered fashion, a change in listening perspective allows quite different information to be clearly registered.

This twenty-one-minute stereophonic work was realized at the Computer Audio Research Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego. It could not have been accomplished without the very important contributions of my musical assistant, John Stevens.

– from the liner notes