BLOG (March 2006 - March 2009)


May 01, 2006

[1.5.06] She Was A Visitor

I thought I might write a brief description of the work that was performed at last Thursday's Tyndall Assembly concert.

Composed in 1967, She Was A Visitor is a work by compsoser Robert Ashley which explores the phonetic nature of text and phenomena of the human voice. It is performed with a leading speaker who repeats the sentence 'she was a visitor' continuously throught performance. Ensemble voices choose phenomes of the text randomly (such as the 'sh' from 'she') and sustain them for the length of a breath (i.e shhhhhhhhhhhh). The ensemble of voices may be split into sections, where one section passes a selected phenome onto the next, and so forth. Performance results in the ensemble players producing layers of sound coloured by the nature of the selected phenomes, thus creating melodic, harmonic, percussive and timbral effects. The leading speaker's voice provides a point of structural consistency and consonance, drawing the listeners' attention to the relationship between the phonetic form of the leader's sentence and the ensemble voices selected phenomes.

For the Tyndall Assembly performance the work was reinterpreted.

I, the solo performer assumed the role of the leading speaker, my voice being pre-recorded beforehand (selecting phenomes of the text) then multi-tracked to provide the ensemble part. The ensemble comprised of three voices, panned to left, centre and right channels - providing points of spatial reference for the listener and importantly, the solo performer. I would begin the piece reciting the sentence 'she was a visitor' four times before signalling a cue to an operator to start an audio file containing the ensemble voices. I then listened carefully to the nature of the sustained phenomes, the three voices contrasting each other at various times in terms of sound and structure. Soon I would begin playing the spoken sentence, drawing out phenomes of the text, gradually merging it into the fragmented nature of the ensemble voices. As the ensemble voices began to fade away, I would carefully reconstruct the spoken sentence to its original form, ending the piece as it had started.

She Was A Visitor is a wonderful example of exploring phonetics and applying them to unique and adaptable performance situation. There is a great deal of potential for the performance of the work to incorporate more theatrical elements in the future, such as involving the audience as well as employing a host of performance environments.

It has a very simple concept, an ultimately flexible system and any number of possibilities for performance.

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