Speaking To & Through
for ARP 2600 synthesizer, quadrophonic playback
One of the first instruments that I interacted with during my time at Oberlin Conservatory was the ARP 2600 synthesizer. Over weeks of converting hand-drawn block diagrams to sound, notating patches and improvising on the ARP, I became more comfortable “speaking” musically through this instrument than i had with any other previously. Something about the way that i could visualize the different components of the instrument interacting with one another was inspiring, and pushed me to enter TIMARA’s basement studios again and again to spend many long nights with this instrument. This piqued an interest in the work of artists who use analog synthesizers, among them Morton Subotnick, Merzbow, and Karl Shultz. In a seemingly unrelated way, i also became interested in extended vocal techniques during my time at Oberlin, listening to artists like Cathy Berbarian, Jaap Blonk, Congar-Ol Ondar, and Trevor Wishart. While my interest in analog synthesis began with getting to know an instrument and then seeking out work that used it, my interest in extended vocal techniques developed almost in reverse; after listening to artists who had an interest in the human voice, i began to realize that i could make many of the same sounds they did with my own voice.
Speaking To & Through is the meeting of these two interests: a piece that rose from hours of experimenting with both my own voice and the voice begotten from speaking through and to the ARP 2600 synthesizer. More than just a clever turn of words, I believe that “speaking to and through” encapsulates exactly what i think occurs when I play this synthesizer. Not only do I attempt to express myself through playing it, but at times i feel capable of truly listening to the synthesizer itself, and compromising, responding to, or arguing with it. As the lines between synthesized and vocal sounds blur in this piece a third voice emerges, one whose source is not as clear, but whose expressivity is made greater because of it. This voice is the one closest to my heart. The decisions surrounding this piece were all governed by a desire to give this third voice a space to speak; i chose to have all vocal sounds be pre-recorded and the synthesizer exist “live” as a way to avoid my vocal voice steal the limelight.
This piece was premiered at Oberlin Conservatory’s Clonick Hall on April 15th, 2015, and performed at the 2014 IN:TIME symposium at Coventry University, UK