Mar 29 | The Voice | Proposals Due

Read Before Class


In Class

Written proposals due today for the second project.

  • Bring a short description of one or more ideas for your project.
  • Present your idea(s) to the class to get feedback.

Today’s topics:

  • Discuss last week’s sound walks.
  • How have artists used the voice within & outside of language?
  • What does the separation of body and voice do to our concept of the self?
  • How does sound effect physiology? Does the body have a voice?


  • Kurt Schwitters epic Dada sound poem Ursonate (1926, recorded 1932) stands on the shoulders of the Italian and Russian Futurists as well as other Dada contemporaries Hugo Ball and Raoul Hausmann.
  • Speaking of Hugo Ball, here’s squeaky clean 80’s pop star Marie Osmond introducing a TV audience to Hugo Ball’s sound poetry. (They got the costume wrong. It was actually much cooler.)
  • Meredith Monk documentary clip from Four American Composers series (Specifically her discussion of language, her thoughts about “Dolmen Music” as an overheard conversation in another language, archaic community, etc). Another expert in expanded vocal technique is Joan La Barbara
  • Sacred Harp Singing is a participatory religious event powered by sound, focusing inward without an audience.
  • Mantras and chants exist in most religious traditions, using the voice as a tool to bring people together, and/or aid meditation. The architecture of religious spaces often intersects with these goals. (
  • Tuvan Throat Singing uses unique overtones in the voice to mimic the sounds of nature (wind whistling, birds, crickets, the rhythms of horseback riding). Blind San Francisco blues musician Paul Pena discovered throat singing via a Radio Moscow shortwave broadcast and taught himself the technique. He was invited to Tuva to participate in a throat singing festival, a journey documented in the 1999 film Genghis Blues. YouTube clip.
  • Alvin Lucier’s I’m Sitting In A Room uses the human voice to reveal the voice of the room itself.
  • German artist Martin Riches created Talking Machine, a mechanical voice synthesizer with reed organ pipes coupled to wooden resonators. (short youtube demo)
  • Pictures and sounds of the Bell Labs Voder, debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair, created by Homer Dudley.
  • The “Speech Songs” of computer music pioneer Charles Dodge, created in the Bell Labs speech synthesis lab in the early 1970s. The lab had previously recorded “Daisy Bell” (Bicycle Built For Two) in 1961, the first song performed by a computer. Arthur C. Clarke witnessed this demonstration and wrote it into HAL’s demise in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Paul Lansky’s Artifice: On Ferdinand’s Reflection (1975-76) uses LPC speech synth technology. (Hear more on his site.)

Further Research

  • Contemporary Dutch composer/performer Jaap Blonk works almost exclusively with sound poetry.
  • For some historical background on speech synthesis, read Dennis Klatt’s History of Speech Synthesis, now archived by the Smithsonian. It’s really badly organized, so you might want to cut straight to the sound samples which are archived here.
  • The sound boxes of Aeschylus explores the acoustic effects of ancient Greek dramatic masks, possibly triggering a state of catharsis when activated by certain vocal sounds.