When contemplating this research question, I began by analysing the recordings of the spoken and sung text of Wulf and Eadwacer. As I considered how to develop this material, my preparatory listening ranged from pioneering works from the 1950s such as Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gesang Der Jünglinge and Luciano Berio’s Thema (Omaggio a Joyce), to Trevor Wishart’s large catalogue of work since the 1970s, to recent projects by composer-performers such as Andrea Young and Marta Gentilucci. I began to analyse recordings of the spoken and sung text of Wulf and Eadwacer, studying sonograms of words and sounds, isolating specific harmonic frequencies, and stretching and transposing phonemes. However, while this activity led to a large quantity of material, the question remained as to how to use the sounds to draw attention to the complexity of the narrator’s inner speech.
At this stage in the composition process, my attention shifted from the research question to the characteristics of the electroacoustic sounds that had been produced. The transformation and processing of transient consonants resulted in many sounds that were reminiscent of natural phenomena such as water and wind. This material suggested further lines of enquiry regarding the relationship of the narrator’s inner discourse to the landscapes that are conjured into being by her words. A web of interrelated questions, centred around the relationship between the narrator’s voice and her environment, was beginning to emerge. How could electroacoustic sound, originating from samples of the singer’s voice, allude to the environment that the narrator describes?
The relationship between the singer’s mental and physical environment acted as a catalyst to the development of my electroacoustic material. Hazel Smith’s proposal that the electroacoustic ‘voicescape’ could facilitate a fluid, multilayered relationship between voice and environment parallels the complex strata of Wulf and Eadwacer.12 However, how could a collection of windy, watery, electroacoustic sounds acquire structural integrity and coherence that would facilitate my commentary on the text? My attention turned to the parameters with which I might define the work’s imaginary landscape. Adrian Moore proposed that drones in electroacoustic music could create a canopied or rooted setting, alluding to an imaginary horizon.13 If the tape’s sustained drones, such as the D4 in bars 13–28, were interpreted as representations of such a horizon, then the vanishing point of the imaginary landscape was already in place. When considering how to populate the electroacoustic landscape, I began by drawing on the text’s references to environmental realities such as marshes, rainy weather, and an island, experimenting with the placement of electroacoustic sounds that seemed redolent of water and air. Stereo panning was used to create a sense of movement within the landscape. The inclusion of both closely recorded vocal consonants and reverberant, sustained vowels further alluded to perceptions of space, creating the impression of varying distances between the listener and sound source. In populating an imaginary landscape with material derived from the singer’s voice, my process showed similarities with the way in which Barry Truax used words as ‘raw sonic materials’ to elaborate on their context.14 However, unlike Truax’s use of contemporary English poetry, my work was based on vocal material which, for the majority of listeners, would have no semantic meaning. Consequently, correspondences between the meaning of a word and its sound would have far less immediacy; for most listeners, the words themselves lacked the power to conjure mental images. The more abstract relationship between word and sound in my work turned my attention to the idea of sonic metaphor.
The idea of musical metaphor is rich in complexity. In her musical and philosophical investigation of vocality, Danielle Cohen-Levinas proposed that metaphor underlines the emblematic question of the morphology of the sound itself.15 According to Cohan-Levinas, the sound represents simultaneously the source and the purpose of the work, resulting in a vast spectrum of creative and interpretative possibilities.16 In my work, my use of sustained drones, untransformed vocal samples, and sounds reminiscent of environmental phenomena pointed to the variety of interpretations suggested by Cohen-Levinas. However, what would prevent my work from becoming simply a series of disparate sonic tableaux? In his discussion of fixed-media electroacoustic music, Trevor Wishart’s idea of the ‘sound-image’ served as a useful example to clarify my approach to metaphor.17 Wishart proposed that metaphorical interpretations might be established when a sound is transformed, or when contextual cues alter our interpretation of the sound-image, as illustrated in his composition Red Bird (1977).18 During the opening twelve bars of We Are Apart; Our Song Together, sounds of indefinite pitch were used to create an ambiguous, metaphorical relationship between gestures with a clear vocal origin and more abstract material reminiscent of wind or waves. The refrain's last line, ‘ungelīc[e] is ūs’, was speeded up, filtered, and transposed to create a gesture that might be indicative of twittering birds or bubbling water, as from around bar 8. The name ‘Wulf’ was slowed down and filtered to create a motif suggesting a gust of wind or a breaking wave, as in bar 4. In developing a metaphorical relationship between vocal and atmospheric sounds, my intention was to allude to the internal nature of a landscape that was framed and articulated by the singer’s expression of her thoughts.
The discussion of landscape draws attention to a paradox. Fixed-media electroacoustic music (often described as ‘tape’) customarily has no live visual element other than the presence of a sound technician, who might be monitoring levels somewhere within the performance space. In concert, visual stimuli are often deliberately minimised by plunging the audience into darkness. In such circumstances, it might seem contradictory to rely on descriptive, visual imagery to frame aspects of the work’s methodology. However, as Wishart has noted, the idea of landscape in electroacoustic music does not require a straightforward correspondence between a sound and its real-world source; the landscape is ‘the source from which we imagine the sounds to come’, even when the landscape itself is surreal and impossible.19 In the context of We Are Apart; Our Song Together, the presence of a mezzo-soprano foregrounds human expression and performativity when the work is presented in concert. Since the sonic landscape of We Are Apart; Our Song Together is formed entirely from sounds derived from the singer's voice, the on-stage mezzo-soprano is, in effect, performing a duet with herself whenever she presents the work. This issue raised a number of questions that fed into the cycle of my work. Who did the electroacoustic voice represent? Where was the temporal or physical location of the electroacoustic voice within the imaginary landscape? What was the relationship between the two (or more) electroacoustic voices and the on-stage performer?
These questions underline issues of ambiguity and disjunction that form a continuous thread running through my work. In particular, the paralinguistic elements of the singer’s performance, such as her posture, physical gestures and expression are in marked contrast to the distance and ambiguity of the electroacoustic voice. In his discussion of electroacoustic vocality, Emmerson drew attention to the disjunction between the live and recorded voice, noting that:
Human presence in acousmatic music is often fundamentally frustrating even when joyous and celebratory rather than threatening or cruel. It represents a displaced ‘other’ — the other side of an impenetrable curtain. We hear (and hence observe) but we cannot communicate back. This will increase our unease — our frustration even.20
Even without electroacoustic treatment, the singing voice itself is arguably richer in meaning and association than an acoustic instrument, further adding to the complexity of my research questions. As Natasha Barrett has noted in relation to Berio’s Sequenza III for solo voice, analysis of the score can reveal the compositional structure, but ‘the emotional energy and facial expressions of the live soprano may easily distract’.21
In working through these research questions, it became apparent that the disjunction between the live and the electroacoustic voices could become part of the piece’s conceptual framework. Drawing on Bossis’s proposal that the disembodiment of the electroacoustic voice has the potential to open up new perspectives, I began to investigate ways in which this disembodiment might highlight the poem’s central themes of separation and dichotomy.22 Although the distinction between recorded and live voices is blurred when We Are Apart; Our Song Together is heard as a recording, the live performance draws attention to the relationship between the on-stage and electroacoustic voices. This distinction is further emphasised in performances in which the live part is performed by someone other than the singer whose voice was used for the electronics. The voice is simultaneously embodied by the on-stage singer, and disembodied in the transformed vocal material that is panned around the room. In this way, the medium of the performance itself became a representation of the poem’s thematic concerns. I began to hear the pre-composed electroacoustic voice as an extension of the singer’s inner monologue, reflecting the poet’s use of the first person and memory. To imply a subtle distinction between the tape voice and the voice of the live performer, a sense of distance was created by adding some filtering and reverberation to the tape voice whenever it duplicated the singer’s material. This is first heard in bars 15–18, when the recorded phrase ‘lēodum is mīnum’ provides a cue for the singer’s initial entry.
Inspired by a series of research questions, the outcome developed into a work of just under eight minutes in duration, for singer and electroacoustic fixed media (commonly referred to by its historical antecedent, ‘tape’). The title We Are Apart; Our Song Together was chosen to draw attention to the disjunction at the heart of the poem, and which informed so much of the work’s development. It conflates two salient lines of the poem, the refrain ‘ungelīc[e] is ūs’ and the text’s final line, ‘uncer giedd geador’.