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Captions, Characters, Self-Portraits: Compositional Approaches to the Disembodied Speaking Voice and the Voice-Text-Music Relationship

Chadburn, L. (2023). Captions, Characters, Self-Portraits: Compositional Approaches to the Disembodied Speaking Voice and the Voice-Text-Music Relationship. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


In this thesis and accompanying portfolio, I show how my compositional practice proposes the disembodied speaking voice as musical material that yields new compositional avenues.

Unlike the singing voice, the speaking voice has an ambiguous connection to music. Does it suggest, even demand new musical material and forms, which deviate from dialectical and teleological musical structures? When this voice is no longer physical, but rather disembodied, does this compound the ambiguity?

I explore three divergent approaches to selecting, generating, and structuring text for disembodied speaking voices, which unmoor the voice from the musical paradigms of literary, lyrical, and poetic texts; and from the linear narratives typically associated with music. My practice eschews these, investigating found text and lists; verbatim and paraphrased documentary material; and stream-of-consciousness free-writing; all of which might break with narrative or semantic meaning.

The deployment of these texts calls into question the function of the disembodied voice. I thus trace an evolving view of the perception of the voice as a cinematic narrator, a radiophonic character, an apparently supernatural presence, an audio caption for the accompanying music, a material sonic object, or as the reflexive presence of the composer themselves. This leads towards a notion of sonic self-portrait in my most recent work, brought about through specific kinds of uses of recordings of my own voice.

These approaches are preceded and contextualised by a framework in which I consider extra-musical models and theories from cinema and artists’ film, radiophonic work and the everyday sphere of vox ex machina automated voices, with reference to a wide range of analogous and contrasting approaches in works by other composers and sound artists.

A second layer of contextualisation is provided by my proposal of a categorisation of types of macro- and micro-structural relationships between speaking voices and music. These range from an entirely separate, discrete presentation of voice and musical material to scenarios in which the voice alone is presented as musical material.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
[thumbnail of Chadburn Thesis 2023 PDF-A.pdf]
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