Thursday, 4 July 2013

L'âne il fait "Hi Han", and Sound Language

Here's my first post since a good few months! I've been back at university for the past year working on a MA in musicology. Many people have asked what can you do with a MA in musicology, and the answer is .... not much really. Or to be more truthful it's more that there's no such job as 'musicologist'. One could work in a museum or teach music from a historical perspective, and of course there's various other 'musicological' posts out there in research areas, or educational functions within organisations. However, all is not based around what job you hope to get with your diploma, there are other interesting stuff which can be developed, or discovered, whilst learning and working at the university (UCL - Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium in my case).

One course in particular has been very enlightening called 'Langage Sonore' (language of sound OR sound language even). This course discusses 'what' sound can be, trying to define it in different cultures such as oral culture and written culture, how it differs and in what ways. It's also dealing with people like Murray Schafer, Pierre Levy, Ivan Fonagy, Jean Piaget and Charles Sanders Peirce whom have all influenced our understanding, in some way, in which we understand sound, speech and music. What is sound, what is music, archaeoacoustics, what is noise, the way our society reacts to sound and music, how children learn language, how they react to music, and many other ideas. I could (and maybe will) write a long blog article on this subject, but for the moment I'll just leave it at that.

Furthermore what made the course particularly interesting was the possibility to work with recordings. One of the projects was the development of a short recorded idea, seeing what could be done with it but in a defined way - using some small rules to produce a piece of sound/music. I decided to keep my piece particularly simple so as not to get bogged down in my soundscapes or various editing techniques. The piece I produced is called L'âne il fait "hi han" (the donkey goes HeHaw) and is made up of 5 people reading from a children's book called 'Le livre des bruits', everyone read the same ten pages at their own speed. Oddly enough everybody read - without knowing it - the material in the same amount of time (44 seconds), except my daughter who spent a few seconds extra on each animals noise. The piece is built in sections of 4 bars + 2 extra bars each time eventually leading to the 10 pages being read in one go. Listen to the piece and you'll understand better the process.

L'âne il fait "Hi Han!" by joehigham

A few things that were interesting - I thought - was that everybody, without knowing about it, took 44 seconds to read their pages, except my daughter who took 58 seconds. This meant that by simply placing the readings together it already produced a sort of rhythm of its own. The other nice effect (if you listen with headphones) is that you'll notice a sort of 'thud' in the rhythm of the reading, which is the people turning the pages.

All that remains is to re-work the piece by taking a more acousmatic approach and introducing many more rules and possibilities into the piece. In its present state it's quite a simplistic piece, but that's also maybe its charm also. I'll be trying this in the next few weeks and naturally will be posting it back here (via my Soundcloud page). 


  1. Boom - pop - ba-ba-boom - - A-HA
    That is just totally brilliant - amazing - surreal - mesmerising - thought stimulating - I love it.

    1. Thanks Nic, pretty fun, eh! I really didn't do very much at all, except decide on an initial length for my first (and only) cut. I also liked the way that it has a rhythm of its own. And, as you'll have noticed, I left in the mobile phone interference after all it was part of the recording.


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