8. Conclusions: Future Directions
Throughout this exposition, the complex relationships between commentary, electroacoustic composition, and Old English poetry have been inextricably linked to considerations of the literal and metaphorical voice. In working through the research questions that led to We Are Apart; Our Song Together and Ungelīc is Ūs, the role and identity of the voice in electroacoustic music did not become clearer. Instead, the mercurial quality of the electroacoustic voice found its ideal counterpart in the ambiguous, fluid nature of the Old English poem. In the context of these compositions, voice is plural and multivalent, encompassing poet, composer, singer, and the electroacoustic transformations of her voice. Faced with such a diversity of voices, Nina Sun Eidsheim’s proposal that the voice is located in the person of the listener, rather than the performer, helped to draw together the multiple ideas and identities of voice in my work.1
In developing this exposition, its justification as artistic research, rather than as research-informed practice, depends to a large extent on the contribution to knowledge arising from the project’s interdisciplinarity. In bringing together music and Old English, in a specific synthesis between the arts and humanities, methodologies of practice-based research create the conditions from which new perspectives can be revealed more readily. The musical compositions build on enduring literary debates surrounding the meaning and characterisation of the source text, Wulf and Eadwacer. In contrast to the many chapters and articles devoted to this poem, my work opens up a number of different ways to interpret the text, not through literary paraphrase or precis, but directly through the medium of the phonetic sounds of Old English. In transforming, manipulating, and exploring these sounds through electroacoustic music, the work foregrounds the sounds of Old English within a methodology that is based on the idea of commentary, drawing on philologically informed pronunciation to facilitate this process. The ambiguous, multi-layered nature of the resulting music reflects the same qualities found in the poem. As a literary work, the poem’s poignant beauty is arguably heightened by the ways in which its emotional complexity eludes clear definition. The intrinsic abstraction of the musical commentary, as described in this exposition, enables the text to be re-presented without diminishing its complexity.
Insights gained in relation to the text of Wulf and Eadwacer, are closely linked to the project's calling into question issues of voice and identity in electroacoustic music. As examples of artistic research, the musical compositions provide outcomes which are necessarily speculative rather than definitive. However, in the field of electroacoustic composition, the two works illustrate how phonetic material might be used to explore the layers of meaning within a literary text. Since the dawn of electroacoustic music, composers have often drawn on fragmentation and collage to dissolve the semantic meaning of words and phrases, deriving sonic materials from text to become more abstract musical compositions. In contrast, my work demonstrates how the phonetic sounds of an ancient language might be developed and explored not to create a purely abstract sound world, but to allude to the totality of a source text, including its sonic, structural, and thematic content. Consequently, my methodology provides an example for others who might wish to explore the relationships between language, literature, and the electroacoustic voice. In more general terms, the project demonstrates some of the ways in which the creative arts can engage with ancient or obscure cultural artefacts such as literary texts, using contemporary artistic practice rather than historically informed recreation.
The two compositions that are presented in this exposition can only illustrate one composer’s path through a series of research questions; the works are intentionally neither absolute nor conclusive. Moreover, the research questions that I chose to investigate were themselves the result of my subjective preferences and decisions. The iterative, cyclic methodology that gave rise to my musical compositions is necessarily open-ended. As such, a key element of my methodology depends on its ability to stimulate further research questions, forming part of an ongoing process of practice-based research. With regard to the future directions of this research, Nina Sun Eidsheim’s proposal that sound, music, singing, and listening are not isolated phenomena but could be mutually important aspects of the totality of an ‘event’, called into question the ways in which my work had separated the voice into live and pre-recorded electroacoustic components.2 In confronting this disjunction, live electronics — whereby the on-stage performer’s voice is transformed and diffused in real time — could suggest ways to reunite live and precomposed electroacoustic musical elements through more interactive processes.
It was in the context of new developments in live electronics, vocal processing and analysis that the continuation of this research project was born. The project, titled Augmented Vocality: Recomposing the Sounds of Early Irish and Old Norse, centres on a programme of practice-based research and a methodology to analyse and explore the sounds of two linguistic corpora: Old and Middle Irish and Old Norse. Combining linguistic expertise with sophisticated voice processing technologies, the project aims to give new life to early languages and help reclaim the oral and performative quality at the heart of medieval literature. In particular, vocal music composition with live electronics can provide a powerful tool to develop new insights and reanimate texts from early languages for audiences well beyond the field of literary studies.
In providing the conditions for unforeseen outcomes to grow and develop into new lines of enquiry, my methodology fulfilled a key condition of its role. In his discussion of artistic practice as research, Anthony Gritten proposed that artistic work can arise most productively when ‘the relationship between its practice and research components cannot be defined in advance with full and absolute clarity’.3 As my research continues to develop and evolve, I look forward to the questions, ambiguities, contradictions and problems that will give rise to new musical compositions.