Listening Assignment

Williams Mix:

Something about is seems soundtrack-like to me. I feel like I’m experiencing a broad range of life experiences in this piece, less about melody and more about soundscape and emotion. Clearly, it defies the expectation for music to have a recognizable and reproducible melody. It does, however, have lulls and peaks in sound, like any other “song” might. Some of the sounds reappear later on in the track and become kind of motifs. I wasn’t entirely sure whether the applause was a part of the piece, or a reaction to it. A comment on the video tells me that the recording came from a live performance, and so the applause came from the audience. I saw on the Wiki page that this piece is the first octophonic piece, and I can only imagine how it would feel to have the sound flow around me from eight speakers instead of two headphones. I imagine it would immerse me more in the sense of soundscape I mentioned earlier.

Gesang der Junglinge:

This piece is more “musical” in that there are sounds with pitches in sequence. Still, there is no easily recognized melody, even though sounds and phrases repeat. I feel like there is a definite parallel being drawn between the boy soprano’s vocal sounds (including what seem to be German words, or at least some phonemes familiar to that language) and the sine waves/clicks/white noise. I have a sense of the electronic noises working together as a voice as much as I do the soprano’s sound belonging to a voice. Knowing the story behind this electronic mass greatly enhanced my listening experience. I really enjoyed this piece!

Ommagio a Joyce:

I am greatly intrigued by the story and ideas behind this piece, being an English major and somewhat familiar with Ulysses. I don’t know what I expected from the description of the piece, but my expectations were way off base. There’s a lot fewer recognizable vowel sounds in it, and much more lulls in sound than I thought there would be. Perhaps it’s because my experience of Ulysses is so focused on the sounds of the language that I felt this homage lacking in language-sounds. My background as a singer might also have influenced this expectation. The Wiki description employs the term “resonance” a number of times to describe the theory behind the piece’s composition, and I associate vowel sounds with resonance. Berio, I think, took a wider approach to resonance, as the Wiki describes the categorization of “resonance colors” as related to how all sounds (and not just vowels) are produced in the mouth. Despite these defied expectations, I do think that this piece does a wonderful job of rendering audibly the mishmash of words, almost-words, and onomatopoeia in Joyce’s text, and the experience of not-quite understanding the rush of sounds that make it up.

Ensembles for Synthesizer:

I like how there is a sense of chance to this composition, but it still kind of follows an ebb and flow of tinkling notes and then discordant chords. I appreciate the number of different synth sounds going on at the same time. This piece employs more “traditional” musical aspect than the previous pieces (e.g. chords) but does so in ways that subvert how they are traditionally used. I really like the layeredness of the sound. The layers of each “voice” don’t necessarily have to align with one another, each kind of doing their own thing except when “communicating” with another “voice” to produce chords, or melody/harmony of sorts, or a kind of beat. I also appreciate how suddenly the tone can shift by adding/removing sounds or elements of recognizable “musicality”, e.g. at 8:55.

I Am Sitting In A Room:

Resonance is an interesting theme in these pieces, and it’s being used in ways that expand how I usually think about it in music, combining it with linguistic ideas and with the acoustics of environment (which is something I don’t often think about as a solitary headphones-listener of music). This piece reminds me of sending a phrase through Google translate several times. It’s also a cool kind of meditation on how technology interacts with its acoustic environment, what it “hears”, and what it feeds back into the environment, how that environment projects that sound, etc. It’s interesting how the performance of this piece almost doesn’t involve Alvin Lucier; the performers are the room and the devices recording and playing back his initial speech. These two performers eventually eclipse Lucier’s recognizable language, evolving and creating a sound of their own together. This sound ends up being closer to what I think most people consider as music, e.g resonant pitches. This speech —> music journey/lineage prompts me as a listener to re-remember the musical qualities of speech, as well as the speech-like qualities of music. I think it would be much more impactful as a listener to be present in the environment that helps to perform a work like this. Still, I get a sense of space and sound coproducing this work, even listening through headphones, apart from the room-performer and the device-performers.

A Rainbow in Curved Air:

The musicality of this work is a lot more familiar to me. Some of the sounds still seem to pull from the sense of playfulness and openness about what synths can do that is so present in the previous works that it pushes the envelope of what music can be. This piece, however, integrates this joyful experimentation within more familiar expectations of music, having a repeating musical pattern underneath the higher pitches that dance over this pulse. The title informs my perception of the synth notes rapid skipping around; I get a sense of refraction that calls back to the image of the rainbow. The repeated up-and-down pattern behind the more energetic synth notes give me a sense of the curvedness, and the arc of the rainbow. The whole tone is on the whimsical side.

Come Out:

The use of voice clips in this piece is a little more familiar to me, reminding me of sampling I’ve heard in other works. Clearly, it diverges from this use in that it repeats a phrase without bridging into “the musical part” or whatever other instruments are a part of that work. This piece is reminiscent of I Am Sitting In A Room in that recorded voice is used to create the shape of the music. The repetitiousness of the phrase “Come out to show them” is arresting, morphing from a description of the blood coming out from the bruise to an entreaty directed at me the listener to act in some way. The communicativeness and the way the rhythms and tonality of the voice builds is definitely musical to me, but the lyrics, if they can be called that, are aimed at me in ways that are much more direct than they might be in any other form of music.


Finally a name I am familiar with! Similar to the Riley piece, this has a kind of steady background on/with which other sounds play and interact. Motifs replay in different combinations across the steady background. There is no easily picked-out melody per se, but this does not take away from its musicality for me. I feel like I experience ambient music more globally than I do other kinds of music, in that the whole of it works together toward an experience rather than different musical parts making kind of a spotlight of their own talents and their interactions with one another.

Tomorrow Never Knows:

Lyrics and the melody that accompanies it immediately catch my attention, and ground it in the familiar category of “song”. The instrumental parts, however, still have that sense of playing with a variety of sounds over a ground-layer of sound, like Ringo’s drums. The integration of pop music “catchiness” (parts of this song got stuck in my head immediately after listening) and experimentation make for a fertile ground of associations that pulls both from pop music’s availability of consumption and the sense that new things/anything can happen in pop music and still be fresh and successful. Surprise and jouissance (to be an literature theory nerd for a second) abound in this song in equal measures for me.

Looking for the Perfect Beat:

I appreciate that I can hear strains of some of the earlier avant-garde works in this, under the really familiar techno beats. On some level, that makes it less accessible to me, since I never really cared for this specific kind of electronic music.

1 thought on “Listening Assignment

  1. Hi Lindsay, I’m responding to your listening post on your blog, as a reply. This should come to your inbox. I am having fun writing with white font on a black background, it looks cool.

    You made many excellent comments in class, and your post here is quite insightful. On the early tape pieces like Williams Mix — yes, the fact that it was 8-channel sound makes a huge difference. It simply doesn’t really work as stereo, which was part of my point in giving it, so you picked up on that. A whole different experience in the right environment.

    Glad you liked Gesang. Again, this is all music that “isn’t about the melody”, but about form and also direct emotion, with the somewhat unsettling sounds of boy’s voices and machine sounds intermingled. Having listened to it many times, it gets better the more you get used to it.

    Yes, Berio does to Joyce’s words what Joyce’s words did to language itself. It’s amazing to me that this piece is more than 50 years old; it was radical then and maybe even more radical now (as is Ulysses, for that matter)

    Good observations on the Babbit. Excellent comments on Lucier, you are listening well into the music, and you noticed that, once recorded, Lucier is himself no longer the performer, the “performer” is the tape player, the speakers, and the room itself.

    Having just taught an entire semester’s class on the Beatles, and read up on everything, I can attest that no one has used the words ” Surprise and jouissance” in relationship to Tomorrow Never Knows! Congratulations on being the first.

    You have a good mind and critical ear, Lindsay. Glad to know you are in choir and studying piano. Are you a music minor, you should be, it’s very easy to accomplish, you’re probably already most of the way there.

Comments are closed.