Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wanted: Sad old man voice; preferably Australian

Monday night I worked in the studio with Adam Long, double-Grammy-nominated recording engineer who does our Poetry Scores projects pro bono. It's a brotherly love, artistic validity thing.

We have a whole lot of work to do on the band songs for the Sydney Highrise Variations score we started without Adam in Nashville, but I had an itch to move toward completion on some of the more experimental pieces.

For these, we have musical miniatures that need to be matched with voice. The music has been procured from our go-to source for evocative weird instrumentals, Middle Sleep, with local experimenter Frank Heyer added to the mix for this score (and from now on). The voice has been provided by the poet himself, Les Murray of Bunyah, New South Wales, Australia.

On Monday night, we encoutered an unexpected hitch. On a Middle Sleep fragment we had set aside for a stretch of the score to be titled "Employment and neckties and ruling themes," we could not get Les' reading to work. The piece unfolds slowly, with a meditative mood; so does the verse. But Les' reading of it is oddly hurried - it doesn't work.

We tried to slow down his reading, but this dropped his voice in tone and slurred his speech. That didn't work either.

I can guess why Les' reading was hurried. I recorded him years ago in Long Island City. The engineer was a Turkish club deejay, doing a favor for a friend of a friend. This guy had the poet laureate of Australia in his apartment, but he was much more attentive to his video game - the guy literally kept his back to Les while Les read, lasering digital enemies with the sound down as this magnificent poem was recorded.

It wasn't the best environment for poet or producer to think about what we were doing. Les was a little rushed, and I clearly wasn't focussed enough on what we needed to catch possible problems and ask him to go back and redo sections with a different pace or phrasing.

No big deal, though. We have precedent for using voices other than the voice of the poet. All we need is to find somebody with a sad, old man voice. Australian preferred. Apply within.

Free mp3s

Sleep improvisation

(Middle Sleep)
Middle Sleep

When we add the sad old man reading to this piece, it will go onto the Sydney Highrise Variations score as "Employment and neckties and ruling themes".

The Sydney Highrise Variations
(Les Murray)
Les Murray

Here is Les' reading of the entire poem.


The sad old man I sketched, above, is the great Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis on my most recent brthday, Nov. 15, 2008). He has a wonderful sad, old man voice - but with a thick Russian accent; wouldn't do. Of course, Pops Farrar would have been the first choice for the voice - but he is dead.

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