"In ascolto del suono e in attesa del senso" (Giacché)

A journey through the relationships between sound and sense in the musical practice of the twentieth and twenty-first century

May 19.2018

Initiator: Paolo Galli

The main purpose of this seminar is the investigation of the connections between vocal/instrumental/electronic music and linguistics, with the specific aim of examining the relations and the subtle transformations between sound and sense.

Influenced by new linguistic theories and stimulated by the possibilities arising from the improvement of vocal/instrumental techniques and the development of new technologies, some renowned composers of the twentieth and twenty-first century, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, Jonathan Harvey, were able to establish fruitful interactions between vocal/instrumental/electronic compositions and the phonetic dimension of the linguistic apparatus. In this regards, the increased interest in the timbral dimension of language became the catalyst of those musical processes which enabled composers to explore and map the unknown and continuously evolving territory between words as bearers of meaning (‘sense’) and words as sound material (‘sound’). More precisely, some of the possible ways of exploring the continuum between sound and sense involved compositional practices based on (i) the adoption of diverse modalities of text processing, such as different levels of text fragmentation (ranging from pure phonetic material to complete sentences), simultaneous text presentation, polylingualism, (ii) the use of phonetic criteria and computer-aided composition techniques as tools to expand the acoustic characteristics of a text and determine the timbral and formal features of a composition, (iii) the exploration of the manifold gradations of the speech-music spectrum.

In the light of these considerations, the following questions arise: which are the relationships between sound and sense within those compositions involving processes that clearly affect the possibility of recognizing words and therefore imply a greater concentration on the sonic aspects of language? Which are the implications of this conception of the relation between sound and sense on today's compositional and performance practice?

Starting from these premises and questions, a heterogeneous panel of experts will address the topic from multiple points of view via a series of presentations and a subsequent panel discussion, which will provide the opportunity to broaden the horizons of our understanding of such a crucial issue for the current musical practice.

Paolo Galli, seminar convenor

Contributions by:

  • Jo Verhoeven
  • Marlies De Munck
  • Marie Guilleray
  • Carlos Gussenhoven
  • Shaya Feldman
  • Wim Henderickx
  • Paolo Galli
  • and others

Venue: Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, Witte Zaal


10:00 - 10:15  Welcome & introduction (Paolo Galli)

10:15 - 10:45  Marlies De Munck: Music and Language: a struggle for meaning

10:45 - 11:15  Jo Verhoeven: The Articulatory Possibilities of Mankind

11:15 - 11:45  Carlos Gussenhoven: On the edge of language – the case of intonation

11:45 - 12:00  Coffee break

12:00 - 12:30  Paolo Galli: “...il n'y a pas encore des mots...” (Paul Valery). The use of the Phoneme’s Distinctive Features as a tool to explore the relation between Sound and Sense

12:30 - 13:00  Shaya Feldman: Gibberish: nonsense, humor, and the subversion of identity ‘Watch the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves’ Lewis Carroll

13:00 - 14:00  Lunch

14:00 - 14:30  Marie Guilleray: The voice in relation to music and language: from Prehistory to Sound poetry

14:30 - 15:00  Wim Henderickx: "My relation to the Voice”. Opera, Music Theatre, Songs, Experimental Works

15:00 - 15:15  Coffee break

15:15 - 16:00  Round table

16:00 - 16:15  Coffee break

16:15 - 17:00  Concert

  • Wim Henderickx
    for Soprano and live electronics (2013)
    Text by Wim Henderickx
    Danae Bletsa, Soprano

  • Shaya Feldman
    Babel poems
    for bass and voice (2018)
    Shaya Feldman, bass and voice

  • Ghérasim Luca
    Passionnément (1973)
    Shaya Feldman, voice
  • Paolo Galli
    Il mare come materiale II
    for Soprano (2018)
    Text derived from the poem Il mare come materiale by Giorgio Caproni
    Danae Bletsa, Soprano