Instrument of Speech (wp)

May 26, 2016 Cornerteateret, Festspillene i Bergen



Ellen Ugelvik, Kristine Tjøgersen, Tanja Orning, Anders Førisdal and Håkon Stene

Music and language share one obvious quality: They can both appear as sound. But the manner in which language and music create meaning is profoundly different, to some perhaps even contradictory. If music creates meaning (which is in itself an extensive discussion), to most of us the manner in which it does so is nothing like the way we feel language creates meaning. Despite this, theorists have long discussed whether music and language have the same origin, that they may share the same root, and that there are strong similarities in the syntax of language and music. Some make this claim based on scientific evidence, while others argue that the two are extremely different and processed in different ways in our brains. Still, the combination of language and music may well be the most common compound of two human forms of expression. We are, after all, always wallowing up to our necks in pop music. In Instrument of Speech we use this relation as a basis for a meeting between recordings of language from various sources set in various musical contexts. The piece consists of different movements applying various sources for speech sound such as people lecturing, conversing, crying, and yelling: Babel includes sound recordings of a multitude of different languages and applies these as rhythmical and “melodic” fragments in the musical texture. Chomsky lectures uses parts of a lecture delivered by the renowned American linguist, author, and political activist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky argues there is a specific language centre in the brain – an area in the brain we are born with and which is coded to perceive and understand language – claiming this is controversial knowledge. For Bennet talks we have gathered sound from a lecture by the English philosopher, physicist, and mystic John G. Bennet. Bennet talks of how we have gotten accustomed to believe the spoken language is the only manner in which we may make ourselves understood, while there are so many ways for us to express ourselves. Books is an exchange of sounds made by, from, and with a book in interaction with the instrumental sounds from the ensemble. Instrument of Speech is written for the ensemble Asamisimasa and is part of the artistic research project Music with the Real.

Videos are made by Peter Knudsen, and Bjørn Erik Haugen has transcribed Chomsky’s speech from sound to MIDI files.


How can music engage in dialogue with its everyday surroundings? And in which ways can reality be a musical material? These are some of the questions posed by the artistic research project Music with the Real. The project’s point of departure is how the idea of Klangrecherche – the last six decades’ search for new musical sounds – has caused an increasing fatigue in the field of contemporary music, particularly the last twenty years. This fatigue is partly due to an exaggerated attentiveness to musical material; pitch, rhythm and tone quality.  Compared to other art forms, art music has cosseted means and methods of creative activity that lack the openness and the plurality of expression existing in other arts, such as painting, dance, or modern theatre. For instance: The last substantial innovations pertaining to instrumental music, is the French school of Spectralism and Helmut Lachenmann’s instrumental Musique concrète of the seventies and eighties. Other art forms have evolved considerably since then, and one might argue that art music has become isolated, aesthetically speaking. Contemporary music of today takes a new interest in ordinary everyday life, in reality, and the new appearances of reality brought into being by technology. This is a new source of accessible musical material, and even more important, a new opening into “the real world” meaning that contemporary music has to relate much closer to reality outside concert halls and music studios. The aim of the research group is to collect and present practices that brings our attention away from purely abstract sound design, and rather engages in dialogue with familiar surroundings, including references and prosaic features of pop culture and the culture of everyday life. The project participants are Håkon Stene (performer and artistic researcher, The Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo), Clemens Gadenstätter (composer, professor at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz), Carola Bauckholt (composer, professor at the Anton Bruckner Privatuniversität Linz), Johannes Kreidler (composer, lecturer at The Hamburg University of Music and Theater), Matthew Shlomowitz (composer and Associate Professor of Composition in Music at the University of Southampton) and Henrik Hellstenius (composer and Professor of Composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music). The project was established at the Norwegian Academy of Music, and is partially funded by the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme.


Review (in Norwegian)

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”130″ iframe=”true” /]