Mp3 Blog #65: “Into Callous Hands”

Bryan Jacobs:
”Into Callous Hands” 2007
Musique concrete

Not available yet commercially

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A few summers ago my friend Bryan first came up with the idea of writing a piece that used extreme vocal nonverbal emotive gestures such as crying, screaming, and panicked breathing. We talked about the idea quite a bit initially but it wasn’t until last winter that he set out to finally try the idea. When he first proposed a similar idea for a seminar we were both taking with Philippe Leroux his idea was to use vocal samples, possibly from one character in a foreign film, and cross-synthesize them with an acoustic instrument such as an oboe.

It didn’t take too long before this proposed idea was abandoned in favor of sampling extreme emotive vocal sounds from a number of movies by Lars Von Trier, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Ingmar Bergman. Following extensive cataloguing, studying, and a test montaging these samples it became clear that the idea of cross-synthesizing this material with an acoustic instrument would probably not work. Despite this, he found a number of ways to bring out the more pitch and harmony-based elements from this material and create an acousmatic piece with these movie samples that, although it lacked any conventional acoustic instrument, used elements such as filtered noise and ring modulation to focus the listener’s ears on the harmony and more conventional musical elements in extreme vocal nonverbal emotive gestures.

This piece has ended up being quite successful and, although I think it a bit too clean and didactic compared to Bryan’s initial esthetic goal, it has been since selected for playback in a number of festivals.

Since then he wrote another piece using the same materials for a large chamber ensemble and is also currently finishing a piece with the same materials for the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble with the assistance of the McGill Digital Composition Studio but I think that, so far, the most successful of his pieces to use these samples is “Into Callous Hands” which was commissioned for the 7th Biennial International Competition “Concours Luc Ferrari” competition in France.

Unlike the Byran’s other pieces exploring this esthetic the music in “Into Callous Hands” entirely focuses from these extreme vocal nonverbal emotive gestures. The difficult to relate instruments, pitches, as well as the harmonic and didactic qualities of his other tape piece are missing in this piece. All that remains is the voice and its utmost intimate and dirty dramatic extremities with an engaging formal construction that draws the listener into what really constitutes these sounds. It may not be emotionally easy music but it is definitely worth hearing.

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