The Musical Semiotics of Timbre in the Human Voice and Static Takes Love's Body

by Reed, S. Alexander

Abstract (Summary)
In exploring the semiotics of vocal timbre as a general phenomenon within music, theoretical engagement of the history of timbre and of muscial meaning bolsters my illustrative analyses of Laurie Anderson and Louis Armstrong. I outline first its reliance on subtractive filtering imparted physically by the performer's vocal tract, demonstrating that its signification is itself a subtractive process where meaning lies in the silent space between spectral formants. Citing Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology and placing the body's perceptual experience as the basis of existential reality, I then argue that the human voice offers self actualization in a way that other sensory categories cannot, because the voice gives us control over what and how we hear in a way that we cannot control, through our own bodies alone, our sight, touch, taste, and smell. This idea combines with a listener's imagined performance of vocal music, in which I propose that because of our familiarity with the articulations of human sound, as we hear a voice we are able to imagine and mimic the choreography of the vocal tract, engaging a physical and bodily listening, thereby making not only performance but also listening a self-affirming bodily reflection on being. Finally I consider vocal timbre as internally lexical and externally bound by a linguistic context. Citing Peirce and Derrida, and incorporating previous points, I show vocal timbre as a canvas on which a linguistic and musical foreground is painted, all interpreted by the body. Accompanying theoretical discussions is a concerto addressing relevant compositional issues.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Mathew Rosenblum; Peter Havholm; Eric Moe; Andrew Weintraub

School:University of Pittsburgh

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:07/10/2006

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