Bonnie Jones > May 2008, Using Text with Electronic Sound

I completed an artistic residency at STEIM from May 11 – 24, 2008 working on a duet project with Andy Hayleck and my own solo project. In addition, we collaborated with Alessandro Bossetti’s text/sound project “Mask Mirror.”

My instrumentation is circuit bent digital delay pedals. I play the circuit board of a digital delay pedal with an instrument cable going directly into the mixer. The sounds produced are raw, chaotic electronic sounds. In addition, I took recordings of people reading an excerpt of Christian Bok’s piece “Eunoia” to incorporate into my musical palette. I also used edited recordings I had made of people recounting their dreams.


For my solo project I decided to focus on using text, speaking, and literature with improvised electronic music. I spent a lot of time researching and reading about the Oulipo (means “potential) writers and other so called restraint-based writers in order to provide a context for my work. My feeling was that the literary approach of the Oulipo was similiar to my own musical approach.

The Oulipo writers and those influenced by them favor creating algorithms and restrictive systems to dictate how the writiing is produced. In my electronic music practice, I am also interested in exploring restrictive practices including – liberal use of silence and space, creating musical gestures that are limited in loudness, or dynamic range. While there is no one-to-one equation between the two – I think this kind of thinking could produce interesting new experiments in musical composition.

During my time in Amsterdam I began a writing/sound project that would take the Oulipo insipired work of Christian Bok and transform that into a sound composition. This process included using spoken recordings of excerpts from his piece “Eunoia.” This piece is divided into five chapters, each chapter named after one of the English vowels and each is comprised of words that do NOT use the vowel of the title. So for instance, Chapter A can only use the words with the vowel A in them. This means that Chapter A has no words with the letter e,i,o,u in them.

At STEIM I was working on a recording of Chapter I. My process was to edit the “I” out of each word in the chapter. This somewhat arduous process results in a very peculiar guttaral “language” that is almost all hard consonants. I then took this and other recordings I had made of people reading Chapter I and introduced them with electronic music into a solo piece.

For my duet project with Andy I worked with a set of recordings that I had edited of people recounting their dreams. In addition, to my electronic instruments I would introduce these spoken voices into our improvisations. I also experimented with using my own voice to speak during electronic music improvisation, or to collaborate with Andy’s speech SuperCollider patch. This instrumentation was also what we used when we worked with Bossetti’s “Mask Mirror.”

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A few thoughts/ideas about text/sound from STEIM:

Making text and sound projects is extremely difficult for me coming from a writing and musical background. I have a difficult time envisioning a piece that would maintain the integrity of both the musical and textual elements. Often one or the other becomes background.

For instance, when you introduce spoken text into a musical collaboration if the text is audible it becomes dominant, if the text is inaudible it becomes a blurred background that is more a texture or noise than actual language. In which case, the point of using language becomes a bit negligible since you’re merely using language as a textural element.

Merely treating words as sounds is not enough – however, allowing the meaning of words to enter into a musical composition is fraught with issues. Words are heavy things, but rightfully so.

What intrigues me about using language in music comes from the desire to understand linguistic composition and musical composition as two unique forms of communication.

What can text provide that sound cannot? What can sound provide that text cannot?

If we introduce spoken words into music what must we require of those words in order to maintain the integrity of the sounds we chose? Is the goal to make one more like the other? I think not, but perhaps the goal is to realize the unique characteristics of each and devise ways that the two might coexist in the same piece.

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