We all live on the same planet, but it is indeed a scattered world. The difference in
culture, language, history, religion and welfare are sometimes overwhelming when
travelling between different nations and regions of the world. Still, people of all nations
and races share the same basic needs, hopes, joys and sorrows. Wherever there are
people, the sound of the human voice will fill the air, expressing their emotions through
talking, laughing, crying or singing depending on time and place. The sound of the voice
is a striking symbol of the unity of mankind, and the sound of music is called “the
universal language of the world.”
The idea to make Grains of Voices was born as I was asked to make a musicdramatic
piece for the Swedish Radio. I decided to make a composition concerning the human
voice, its symbolic implications and its musical applications. I have always been
fascinated by the richness and variation of voices I’ve heard during trips to different
places in the world. Children’s voices, young and aging voices all possess unique
qualities in different regions of the world. I had a vision of making a piece of sonic art
that would reflect and explore all possible aspects of sound emanating from all thinkable
(and unthinkable) voices from all around the world. My aim was to create an image of
the voice, symbolizing the unity of a complex world where ethnic, cultural and idiomatic
ideals melted into a new form. In a sense like a large, wild and unrestrained piece of
vocal graffiti.
I wanted the voices to be captured at “the source” and not come from preexisting
recordings, since one important aspect of the idea was to make my own experiences and
relations to the people and cultures “behind” the sounds a part of the compositional
process. For this reason I set out for a journey around the world to record the sounds of
the human voice. On practical as well as economical grounds, I could not visit all the
nations and places I wanted. The piece far from covers all of the world’s immense
diversity of vocal expression, but hopefully the concept comes through anyway.
I was from the very beginning planning to let the journey and all the random events that
would occur along the way work as a natural “borderline” that I would have to relate to
later in the process. The people I met would say or sing whatever they wanted and I
would simply record them as our ways crossed. Consequently, when I later returned to
Sweden and was looking for some western opera voices, I asked the artists themselves
to decide what they wanted to sing. This way I did not (with a few exceptions) control
what went into the composition, only what came out. Furthermore I didn’t want to put
the sounding material together with a traditional collage technique, but rather use
modern means of digital audio processing and mixing together with a new composing
strategy to shape the different voices into a multilayered, cross-cultural hybrid piece of
sonic art.
The field recordings were done between February and May 1994 and resulted in close to
20 hours of recorded material. Additional material was recorded in Sweden during the
summer and autumn of ’94, and basic editing and processing of selected material was
done from May to October ’94. There are, however, parts in the piece that not only make
use of field recordings. There are instances where I have used archive recordings or
recordings from television and radio. The actual composing, sound processing and
mixing was done in periods between September ’94 to July ’95 with the major part of the
work done from February to June ’95.
In this piece I am not acting like a traditional composer in the sense of one who invents
new melodies, harmonies or rhythms. Instead I am creating relations between recorded
sounds in such a way that a sense of meaning and musical logic may be projected in the
mind of the listener.
Thus the listener is forced to “travel” through large portions of the piece, making his or
her way through the sometimes very dense weave of voices. Since the piece contains
songs and words not only from different cultures but also from different regions within
each culture (like street market voices combined with songs from a wedding party) there
will at times be portions of the piece which may seem meaningful to one listener but not
to another. Or rather, the level of meaning will change depending on who is listening and
when. From a lingual point of view the piece is clearly biased towards English. I felt this
to be necessary in order to maintain the dramaturgical continuity of the composition.
The piece is composed as a continuous flow where movement-like “islands” of thematic
ideas and voices are formed. The opening of the piece uses the biblical words of Genesis
where “darkness” and “light” have been substituted with “silence” and “sound,” giving
the first chaotic section its symbolic character. In this section the piece literally explodes
throwing hundreds of voices and characters towards the listener.
The second part of the piece has the theme of memories of childhood in the form of
lullabies and children’s songs from different countries combined with answers to two
questions: “What is the voice?” and “What is music?”
The next “island” carries the theme of prayers through the combination of the
provocative poetry of Allen Ginsberg, the evening prayer of an old Hindu woman, a
Balinese and a Fijian priest, and finally a New Delhi citizens right demonstration.
In a rather short section a new theme of time and memories is projected through the
poetry and voices of dead poets like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Herman Hesse,
Philip K Dick and Dylan Thomas.
This section leads to a long movement in witch the theme of musical drama is explored.
The western classical opera meets modern improvised caricatures of itself, Balinese
shadow plays and the classical Tibetan style of opera singing.
The last section of the piece is born as a slow transformation from dramatic to ritual
music. Rain songs and aboriginal chanting, Fijian war songs and the agressive preaching
of reverend Billy Graham meet fragments of North American popular culture in the form
of cut-up commercials and rock clichés ending in a chaotic sound reminiscent of the
beginning.
The apocalyptic finale of the piece where God (seemingly tired of all the shouting and
noise) with a mighty roar proclaims silence, may, of course, be understood in its most
obvious biblical sense as the dooming of the world. I prefer, however, to think of silence
not as the opposite of life and light, but rather as the symbol of peace.
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