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You Can't Get There from Here, Part 2: Fragment from Sonia

“In life we do everything to avoid anxiety, whereas in Art we must pursue it.” – Morton Feldman I didn’t really know what to expect from Sonia’s fragment. I’ve only heard a little of her music prior to this project. She had mentioned possibly working with prerecorded/electroacoustic material so I guess I probably anticipated that somewhat, but beyond that I had no idea. Nonetheless when it came in, I was still surprised and intrigued. The whole fragment was as far as i could tell completely electroacoustic – no actual “instruments” in the conventional sense anywhere! A lot of different samples of singing voices, some of which I felt I recognised but couldn’t quite place (was one of them Billie Holiday?), some more jazz in sound and others more classical. There was also some very close chromatic material in a higher soprano voice. Finally there was a sort of heavy sine – wave sound pulsing out an irregular pattern which immediately drew my ear. The whole feel was dense, thick and texturally really interesting, particularly for someone like myself that likes to think texturally. How to respond to it? I didn’t have individual audio files of the different vocal samples, just a final mix. I started to focus in on the moments that drew my ear, a couple of vocal lines in particular, one which said ‘I’ll go out and see the stars” or similar, and the other I can’t remember now. I also did a quick transcription of the sine wave pattern, and then started to change it a little (not much, I liked this and wanted to sort of preserve it as the backbone of what I was going to do).

Melodyne Editing Window

With the vocal samples I zoned in on, I went to work on them using a piece of software called Melodyne, which allowed me to take some of the components of the voice sound away and leave others intact, for example taking the main pitch away but leaving the breathiness, or the upper overtones. This changed the quality of the vocals quite dramatically and some of them take on an almost strained quality in places, which I liked. I also introduced some instrumental parts, sometimes on pitches that were present in some way in the original, but also with some new material. It perhaps less lush and dense than the original, but I think it has taken on a tension or strain that wasn’t there before, and it occurs to me that this is often what I look for in music, both in my own and other’s work: the tension, the fleeting moments of discomfort. I was fairly happy with the final result, and hope Sonia isn’t too aghast at it!

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