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25 songs (studio produced electronic music)

by Elliott Gyger (1999)

25 songs


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Work Overview

This work is the audio component of a collaborative work which was displayed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, before touring to Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Singapore.  The other contributors are visual artist Joe Felber and dancer/choreographer Lucy Guerin.  In a sense, though, the piece is an anti-collaboration.  The source material for the work is a set of 25 epigrammatic statements on art by the American painter and theorist Ad Reinhardt, which Joe Felber transformed into 25 typographical designs, creating a kind of 'libretto' in the medium of visual poetry.  From that point on, however, each of us responded independently to this libretto, creating three separate, parallel art works:  a physical space, a choreographed dance performance, and a piece of prerecorded music.

My work 25 Songs is not, in fact, a piece of electronic music as the term is usually understood.  The sound sources are seven singing voices, but these sources are never manipulated or distorted, save for a small amount of pitch shifting for intonation purposes, and some fairly basic reverberation.  Where I have taken advantage of the resources of the studio is in creating superimpositions of an intricacy and complexity that would be completely impractical in a live-performance context:  I think of the piece as a kind of wild polychoral fantasy, an analogy supported by the strict separation of the voices in different loudspeakers.

The composition process involved two quite distinct phases.  The first phase constituted the composition of a separate short piece of music for each of the 25 texts (the 25 songs of the title).  Each song is scored for one of the seven voices, but often multitracked (thus Song 15 is scored for five tenors, i.e. the same tenor five times).  Reinhardt’s text is sometimes audible, complete or in fragments, but it is often pulverized into its constituent phonemes.  The second phase was the creation of a collage from these 25 songs, now treated as “found objects”.  Some passages from particular songs are heard many times over in the course of the collage, while others are never heard at all.

A particular challenge I faced in the composition of the collage was the creation of a piece that would make sense both as an extended (21-minute) concert work, but also as part of an installation where gallery patrons might step in and only stay for a few minutes before moving on.  My solution was to cast the piece in a series of more-or-less self-contained sections, 13 in all, which would nonetheless add up to produce a cohesive larger shape.  Starting fairly simply, the layering of different materials builds to a high point of density halfway through, before returning gradually to simplicity.

Work Details

Year: 1999

Duration: 21 min.

First performance: 27 Mar 99. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Performances of this work

27 Mar 99: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

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