City Research Online


Armstrong, N. (2010). unsaying


unsaying was commissioned by ELISION ensemble, and premiered by Séverine Ballon (violoncello) and Deborah Kayser (voice) at Kings Place, London. The work explores various forms of interaction between systematically differentiated types of vocal and gestural utterance and articulation. Many of the core ideas stem from investigations into systems of generative, permutational, and combinatorial phonetics in linguistics, concrete poetry, and Hebraic mystical traditions. What my work shares in common with these approaches is the working theory that finely-grained, syntactically plausible utterances may be formed from the application of well-defined combinatorial rules to a finite set of atomic acoustic (phonetic) elements. There are, however, two key points of departure in unsaying: 1) the set of atomic elements is expanded to include 'speech-like' gesture and articulation types on the cello, and 2) over the course of the work, the patterning of atomic elements evolves across a sequence of progressively differentiated textural and articulational fields. The set of atomic elements utilised in the work is divived into distinct classes of sound and gesture. In the voice, these are voiced consonants (m, n, j, etc.), noisy consonants (s, tss, shh, cch, etc.), short plosives (p, k, t, d, etc.), iterative/grainy sounds (rrr), and a scale of vowel sounds shifting from dark to bright timbres. In the cello, element classes included sliding bowed sounds with semi-pitched noise content, struck (battuto) sounds, various pizzicati, and ringing natural harmonics (struck as well as bowed). Both parts move progressively from sounds that are stifled, abbreviated, or muted, to pitched sounds with full resonance. Four key modes of interaction between the two parts provide the locus for development: composite co-ordinated gestures, imitation, completion (one part completes a gesture initiated by the other), and contrapuntal unfolding. The title of the work is adapted from Michael Sells' monograph on historical apophatic discourses, Mystical Languages of Unsaying.

Publication Type: Composition
Additional Information: First performance: Kings Place, London, Nov 2010.
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
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