Fantasies and Tableaux

Composers Recordings, CRI 683

some sound samples

Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion

Speech and song are commonly considered different and distinct -- as apples and oranges. It is my feeling, however, that they are more usefully thought of as occupying opposite ends of a spectrum, encompassing a wealth of musical potential. This fact has certainly not been lost on musicians: sprechstimme, melodrama, recitative, rap, blues, etc., are all evidence that it is a lively domain.

Six Fantasies is my exploratory journey through this terrain. Each of the fantasies attempts to musically transform a single reading by Hannah MacKay of a well-known poem by Thomas Campion, and to musically highlight some aspect of her speech: contour, vowels, resonance, articulation, consonants, etc., explicating the implicit music within. The final fantasy largely reproduces the original reading, and it is my hope that by the time this rolls by that her speech will sound like music.

Thomas Campion was, of course, both poet and composer, and whether he knew it or not, particularly sensitive to the musical spectrum spanned by speech and song. His poem Rose cheekt Lawra was published in 1602 as part of a treatise entitled Observations in the Art of English Poesie. In this essay Campion, in a tradition of the time, attempts to construct a quantitative model for English poetry in which, as in ancient Latin and Greek, meter is determined by vowel quantity, rather than by accentual rhythm. The poem is a wonderful, free-wheeling spin about the vowel box. It is almost as if he is playing vowels the way one would play a musical instrument, jumping here and there, dancing around with dazzling invention and brilliance, carefully balancing repetition and variation. The poem itself is about Petrarch's beloved Laura, whose beauty expresses an implicit and heavenly music, in contrast to the imperfect, all too explicit earthly music we must resign ourselves to make. This seemed to be an appropriate metaphor for the piece.

               Rose-cheekt Lawra, come,
       Sing thou smoothly with thy beawties
       Silent musick, either other
                       Sweetely gracing.
               Lovely formes do flowe
       From concent devinely framed;
       Heav'n is musick, and thy beawties
                       Birth is heavenly.
               These dull notes we sing
       Discords neede for helps to grace them;
       Only beawty purely loving
                       Knowes no discord;
               But still mooves delight,
       Like cleare springs renu'd by flowing,
       Ever perfect, ever in them-
                       selves eternall.

Still Time

Cinema has had a substantial affect on the ways we think about music. Used best, music in film becomes an organic, often psychological part of the experience, uniquely casting our perceptions, transforming our senses of time and place, telling us things we would have no other way of knowing. It is particularly interesting to see the way in which music has learned to become the `inner voice' of a film image. While music's urge to `evoke' is ancient, its psychological role in opera is venerable, and its contemporary use as environmental color is all too prevalent, and heavily abused, there still seems to be something new about the ways in which we have learned to understand it in relation to scene. Undoubtedly, the portability that technology has brought to music and theater has a lot to do with this, but the fact remains that a new itch is being scratched.

Still Time was conceived as a kind of film music without images, perhaps reminiscent of the idea of a `song without words.' Each of the four overlapping tableaux of the piece rests on an initial realworld sound: wind in the garden, traffic, and groups of people for the last two. (The use of realworld sound here differs substantially from that in much of my other work, where I often attempt to transform the sounds into music -- in this piece, the sounds remain relatively free from digital intervention and retain their original identity.) Turning the tables a bit on film, however, the recorded sounds are used here to color the music that evolves: now the `images' become the inner voice of the music. But, the piece is not `about' anything in particular; it is, ultimately, abstract. Instead, I hope that the realworld sounds will influence our perceptions of the music, coloring or skewing them by the way they position us. Also, further drawing on the experience of film, the pacing and evolution of the piece was conceived in terms of a kind of `landscape' cinematography: my musical camera pans slowly, and musical shapes build gradually, as we accumulate details of the panorama.

Technical Notes

Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion was written in 1978-79 using IBM 360/91 and 3033 mainframe computers. It uses a technique known as Linear Predictive Coding, in addition to a variety of filtering and processing techniques.

Still Time was written in 1993-94 using a NeXT computer. It uses a variety of reverberation, mixing and techniques and a physical model of a slide flute developed by Perry Cook.

Six Fantasies, which was originally issued on LP in 1982 (CRI-456) has been resampled at 44.1khz from the original digital tapes, and both pieces were digitally transferred from the computer for mastering, so that every copy of this CD contains the original digital masters of these pieces.

Paul Lansky

Paul Lansky's works for computer have tended to focus on the ways in which this technology can be used to expand and deepen our sense of the sounds of the world around us, rather than on the invention of `new sounds.' To this end his pieces have involved the sounds of speech, people going about their business, machines, musical instruments -- using the computer as an `aural camera' to transform and reposition our perceptions of these sounds. It is his contention that the force of meaning in a sound lies not only in its musical context, but perhaps also in the ways in which we understand its physical origin. He teaches at Princeton University.

Other CDs by Paul Lansky

Smalltalk, New Albion Records, NA030CD: Smalltalk, Guy's Harp, Late August, Not So Heavy Metal.

Homebrew, Bridge Records, CD 9035: Table's Clear, Night Traffic, Now and Then, Quakerbridge, The Sound of Two Hands.

More Than Idle Chatter, Bridge Records, CD 9050: Idle Chatter, Word Color, just_more_idle_chatter, The Lesson, Notjustmoreidlechatter, Memory Pages.

Pieces in collections

Hop: (marimba and violin) Combo Platter, Marimolin BMG/Catalyst 62667-2.

As If: (string trio and tape) The Virtuoso in the Computer Age -- I, Trio Fervor'd, Centaur Records CRC 2110.

Stroll: (chamber ensemble and tape) The Composer in the Computer Age -- III, Centaur Records, CRC 2213.

Wasting: (tape, with Brad Garton, Andy Milburn) Inner Voices, Centaur Records CRC 2076.


Code, David Loberg, Observations in the Art of Speech: Paul Lansky's Six Fantasies, Perspectives of New Music, Vol 28/1, pp. 144-169.

Dodge, Charles and Thomas A. Jerse, Computer Music, N.Y. 1985, pp. 215,231,262.

Ondishko, Denise: Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion: Synthesis and Evolution of Paul Lansky's Music Compositions. Ph.D. dissertation, Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, 1990 (Ann Arbor Microfilms).

Schwartz, Elliott and Daniel Godfrey, Music Since 1945, N.Y., 1993, pp. 385-386.

Hannah MacKay studied acting at the High School of Performing Arts, and with Lee Strasberg, and has worked in film, television and radio. She also pursues an active interest in classical languages and literature. Wife of Paul Lansky, she is also the `voice' of many of his pieces.

                        Paul Lansky
                  Fantasies and Tableaux

Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion               (22:24)
        1  her voice                    (2:52)
        2  her presence                 (3:45)
        3  her reflection               (4:04)
        4  her song                     (3:10)
        5  her ritual                   (6:02)
        6  her self                     (2:31)
Reader: Hannah MacKay

Still Time                                               (25:16)
        7  first tableau: panorama
        8  second tableau: street scene
        9  third tableau: from above
       10  fourth tableau: turning inward
Total playing time                                       (47:40)

     All compositions are copyright GrimTim Music (ASCAP)



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