In opera houses and concert halls, singers croon to crowds. Vocal music has the power to prick goosebumps and evoke emotion in even the most stoic audiences. But for some composers, the voice does not need to sing, at all — music can be found in simple speech.
This Thursday, the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media wrapped up its reVox exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of Yale’s Oral History of American Music project. The project seeks to capture the narratives and reflections of American musicians through in-depth interviews. The reVox exhibit invited composers to make music out of the recorded interviews existing in this archive.
The exhibit is collaborative. Composers from across the country were invited to “plunder the archives and take whatever interviews they wanted,” director of the Center for Studies in Music Technology Jack Vees said. Vees noted how easy it is to take an expansive archive for granted and said scholars want to draw attention to the value of the archive’s information.
Libby Van Cleve, director of OHAM, called the exhibit a “grand experiment.” She noted that presenting human speech musically is not new. Yet the reVox exhibit also incorporates visual art, using photographs and videos to alter how listeners receive each piece. According to Van Cleve, she had “no idea” whether this experiment would yield an effective result.
Van Cleve said the exhibit’s primary goal was to exemplify a diversity of art and artists. While OHAM primarily focuses on scholarly work, Van Cleve remarked that this scholarship did not have “broad appeal,” and did not often “ignite a spark in composers.” The project of diversification led to a collection of pieces in the exhibition ranging from avant-garde experiments that alter the voices in the interviews to more traditionally-composed pieces that play alongside the interviews.
“I had a strong intuition that there were going to be some really interesting pieces,” Van Cleve said.
Vees used his work as an opportunity to memorialize Arthur Jarvinen, a friend and mentor who passed away. He incorporated a recording Jarvinen made while walking around Placerita Canyon Park in California. Since Jarvinen recorded himself on a Walkman, Vees said the recording is “grungy and primal-sounding.”
“[Jarvinen is] ruminating on his place in the world and music, but he was also interrupting himself,” Vees said. “He had a banjo, and he would stop talking and start playing.” Vees composed a harmonica part to accompany Jarvinen’s banjo.
Van Cleve also mentioned the intimate nature of the OHAM interviews.
“The types of pieces that were created were remarkably personal,” Van Cleve said. “There’s something about the sound of the voice that really gets at who the person really is, their essence.”
Alexis Lamb MUS ’20, who composed a piece for the exhibit, said the broader impact of reVox is the way it makes the OHAM library come alive. Her piece deconstructed an interview with Pauline Oliveros, and the compositional techniques she employed echo Oliveros.
According to Lamb, it’s difficult for students to realize the archive’s grandiosity “when there’s no way to see what it has to offer in a way that’s visually interesting and sonically interesting.”
This is why reVox presents voices through various art forms: to refigure the human voice and allow people to listen with increased attentiveness.
“[ReVox] is showing appreciation for how much thought people put into what they speak,” Vees said. “Especially in these times, it’s important to value that. It’s a precious thing.”
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Tyler Brown | firstname.lastname@example.org