for oboe d'amore, English horn, two digital soundtracks and computer graphic images

with computer graphic images by Theo Goldberg

My first work based on the granulation of sampled sound was The Wings of Nike (1987) whose sole source material for three movements was two phonemes, one male, the other female. They were used with high densities of grains, including transpositions up and down an octave, thereby sometimes blurring the distinction in gender. A more extensive use of gendered text was involved in Song of Songs (1992) where a decision had to be made how to use the original Song of Solomon text which includes lines that are conventionally ascribed to the characters of Solomon and Shulamith, his beloved. The simple solution was to have both the male and female readers of the text record it without changing any pronouns. When these versions are combined, the listener hears both the male and female voice extolling the lover's beauty, comparing it to the bounties of nature, as well as erotic lines such as the refrain:

I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine, he feedeth among the lilies.

There is frequent use of time stretching in the piece, from slight prolongations of spoken syllables to render it more rhythmic and song-like, through longer stretches that emphasize the inflection patterns of the reading, and finally to extreme extensions where the vocal sound becomes an ambient texture. Granular stretching of a voice, by adding a great deal of aural volume to the sound with the multiple layers of grain streams (Truax, 1998), often seems to create a sensuousness, if not an erotic quality in the vocal sound. A word becomes a prolonged gesture, often with smooth contours and enriched timbre. Its emotional impact is intensified and the listener has more time to savour its levels of meaning. Song of Songs exploits this effect throughout the work, reserving the larger degrees of stretching for interludes after each portion of the text is heard where the tape accompanies the equally sensual lines of the live oboe d'amore or English horn and the curvilinear forms of projected computer graphics by Theo Goldberg.

Throughout the work there is a blurring of boundaries, a metaphor for love itself. For instance, the highly stretched voices referred to earlier resemble ambient sounds, while the actual soundscape recordings (e.g. birds, cicadas, crickets) that are also stretched and harmonized begin to resemble human utterances. The musical references to melodies from the Christian and Jewish traditions also become increasingly intertwined as the piece progresses. Likewise, the gendered text and the male and female voices speaking it are often intermingled and their distinctions blurred. For instance, the famous 'I am the Rose of Sharon, the Lily of the Valley' text is recited by the female voice with three accompanying transpositions downwards into the male voice range. The blurring of heterosexual and homosexual portrayals of the text reaches an emotional peak in the third movement, 'Evening,' which uses the text:

He brought me to the banqueting house and his banner over me was love.

I sat down under his shadow and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

Thou art all fair my love, there is no spot in thee.

The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.

This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.

Until the day break and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountains of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.

I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine. I am my beloveds and his desire is towards me.

Accompanied by a crackling fire, the male and female voices share this text, sometimes reflecting an opposite sex form of address, and sometimes a same sex form, such as when the male and female voice share the phrase 'thy breasts are clusters of grapes' but the female voice prolongs the phrase. The most explicitly homoerotic moment occurs at the climactic point where the male voice brings out the final phrase 'his desire is towards me' (3:25), leading to the most heavily stretched and expanded version of the word 'desire', accompanied by the prolonged singing voice of a monk, the crackling fire, and a florid elaboration of the cantillation melody played by the English horn.

- excerpted from B. Truax,  "Homoeroticism and Electroacoustic Music: Absence and Personal Voice," Organised Sound, 8(1), 117-124, 2003.

Complete documentation of the piece, including source sounds, processing, production score, live score and spectrograms available on DVD-ROM from the composer (