Foteini Tryferopoulou

A music composition that explores the relationships between speech and music


Musicality of Speech: Incorporating linguistic structures into music composition


Foteini Tryferopoulou

Athens, Greece


The aim of this project is to explore the structures of language that can be translated into music material. Elements of speech such as tone, rhythm, duration, stress and timbre, which are categorised as ‘prosodic cues’, are similar to the tools a composer possesses for composing music. This composition is based on an audio interview by a former tobacco field worker narrated by herself, describing the working conditions and the process of the cultivation of tobacco. The composition, then, is an abstract representation of the birth, life and death of the tobacco workers’ movement in Greece during the interwar period (1918-1939).

From Linguistics to Musicology and from Neurology to Philosophy, the relationship between language and music has taken different forms and has raised different questions. The process of analysing these activities has taken the form of using already existing musics (notated or oral) and languages as subjects of a parallel exploration.

However, the incorporation of musical aspects of speech to an original music composition for acoustic instruments has little been examined.

Moreover, most of these artistic investigations have been based on the aid of technology to extract, analyse and re-produce accurately or abstractly elements of human speech. Interestingly, technological tools that linguists have used for the same goals have not been used for similar artistic purposes.

For this composition, a recorded interview was used as an original audio file. The narrative of the interview shaped the conceptual background of the piece. Using the open source software Praat and its extension Prosogram, the interview was phonetically analysed and transcribed to music material. Additionally, the software Spear was used to extract harmonic information of the audio clip.

The transcription of each phrase was used as core musical material for the quartet for each section of the piece. The prosodic cues informed the texture of each section, gradually moving from intonation to rhythm and then introducing further phonetic elements such as formants. Electronics function as an aid to support these textures.

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