Monday, October 20, 2008

Palin Sings the Blues

Since most of my scholarly work is on Harry Partch, I've long been fascinated by the inherent rhythms in our speech and how those rhythms might be set to music. Partch searched among hoboes for the sound of America, noting down the rise and fall of hobo speech and transforming his notes into Barstow and U.S. Highball, two powerful works of Americana.

Decades later, Robert Ashley created modern operas out of the speech patterns of everyday Americans (most notably himself) that are thought-provoking and beautiful and hypnotic.

Steve Reich created his most powerful work, Different Trains, from recordings of train conductors and survivors of WWII concentration camps. He took their recorded voices, mimicked their inflections in a string quartet, and built an entire work off those motives.

This tradition continues:

I've always found politicians to have remarkable speech patterns that are almost musical in their affect, but matching the strange pauses and non sequiturs of both Katie Couric and Governor Palin was a marvelous move. Music and politics do not often mix, but when they do, it can be fascinating.

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