backstage

Phileas Interviewing

The making of Spoken Wor(l)d.

“Spoken Wor(l)d” is an electro-pop album that features voices of over 40 people speaking in nearly 30 languages. I collected these voices mostly when traveling in Europe, Asia, Northern Africa and South America.

In some cases, the people interviewed responded in their native languages to a set of pictures I had prepared in advance. In other interviews, where we could communicate in the same language, we had a conventional question-answer interview.

Later on in the production stage, I would sit and listen for hours to these interviews, selecting the fragments that interested me from a phonetic point of view privileging the sound and feeling of words more than their meaning. I wanted to create a musical project, keeping distance from semantics or anthropology.

The idea of making music with human speech came to me some 10 years ago, when I began working as a musician with avant-garde Peruvian theater company LOT. Their work is highly conceptual, with a strong interest in text as a material and the spoken word as a tool to sculpt this material. My scores played an interesting part in these scenic experiences of text treatment. Shortly after, I began travelling quite a lot: it was then when I expanded my interest to languages and everyday human speech.

Although this all began at the heart of a theater company, none of the speeches in “Spoken Wor(l)d” are prepared and none of the voices are professional. I soon felt that all these voices speaking together in different languages transmitted ideas of tolerance, peaceful cohabitation, cultural diversity and, at the same time, equal beauty and richness. All it was left to do was building a musical structure that would exalt the voices to send them back to the world they came from, with an enriched symbolic message.

During my career as a composer for theater and dance companies in Lima, I got used to designing sound environments and my approach to writing Spoken Wor(l)d was no different. It wanted to create an atmosphere of celebration, and, in this particular case the perfect marriage between music and celebration is dance. Hence, “Spoken Wor(l)d” was, from a very early stage, a dance music project.

When you tell people that you are a musician they often ask immediately what instrument you play. I tend to respond I play the guitar, mostly. Though I have some piano training as well, and I’ve been into electronic music making for more than 10 years now, I came to music through guitar and I write music almost exclusively on guitar. My previous professional works were always a mixture between electronica and guitar, both electric and acoustic. However, this time, things developed differently. The music in Spoken Wor(l)d was entirely produced on the road, with no guitars at hand and I took it as an opportunity to create a 100% electronic music recording.

For this release, I used absolutely no sample loops and very few individual drum samples, meaning that I designed ninety percent of the sounds on the album, using FM and classic analog synthesis designing principles with special software and hardware. Digitally processing the chosen fragments of voices in Spoken Wor(l)d was a whole issue in itself. Up to what point could I intervene over the natural voice-footages?

Adapting and inserting the voice samples into the music passed through one of several strategies. Sometimes my processing over voices happens through rhythm, synchronizing voices with music, talking in tempo, like rap singers do. In other excerpts, I made speeches sing, tuning artificially words or whole phrases to the key of the piece. I even multiplied voices and tuned them to create polyphonic chord-like voice arrangements. Or I simply add a digital effect – reverbs, delays, vocoders, distortions, etc. – to the samples to create additional sound layers. Or in the end I would left some voices in their naked captured state. The only commonality is that the voices are always protagonists, leading the course of the songs.

I like to think of Spoken Wor(l)d as a poetic place where our thousands of dialects and languages coexist in harmony, some kind of positive Tower of Babel not ruled by differences, but by diversities.

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spoken wor(l)d

  • Spoken Wor(l)d Leaf
  • Spoken Wor(l)d (2008) is an electronic music project that celebrates human speech and language, composed and produced by France-based Peruvian music artist Phileas. The artist spent three years wandering the globe collecting voice samples in more than 30 languages for this recording.

    Spoken Wor(l)d was included in 2008 by the UNESCO in the celebration of the International Year of Languages and received the Vox Populi Award as Best Album Dance/Electronica of the Year in the 8th. Independent Music Awards. Tracks from Spoken Wor(l)d have been air played in radio stations from the USA, Peru and Spain. Phileas has performed live in Germany, France, Colombia, Brazil and Peru.

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