Notes on « A Collection of Smiles »
What happens when we talk to each other? Behind the meaning. Behind the words. Behind the people themselves. What is that reticular tangle, map or rhizome we call a conversation?
What happens when a small group of individuals find themselves in an isolated room and have a totally casual, unprompted verbal interaction?
« A Collection of Smiles » is an acoustic portrait of such a situation – trivial and precious at the same time – intended as a monad, a self contained space where everything lives within, already encapsulated, already implied.
Several people, some already acquainted with each another, some not, are left alone in a room in front of microphones. They are not told what to talk about, they have an hour of time. Voices are recorded separately so that they can later be edited and reorganized in different and ever changing constellations. Afterwards, speech is also progressively transformed into musical material. Spoken phrases are transcribed into pitches and melodic profiles, and arranged and re-composed for a small chamber ensemble with guitar, oud, contrabass clarinet, violin, piano and celesta.
In this process, words and phrases turn themselves into melodic progressions. Infinite recombinations are possible. Counterpoint is the perspective and the motor. The relations between the speakers – which may be considered a polyphonic vocal ensemble performing ready-made spoken madrigals and motets – are contrapuntal. The relation between melodic phrases and progressions in the instrumental ensemble is contrapuntal. The relation between spoken phrases and their melodic shadows played by the instruments is contrapuntal.
Speech and its instrumental shadows mirror each other. Melodies and their spoken aliases claim a primacy that’s hard to establish. The antiphonal game of imitation between speech and music continues indeterminately as in the infinite bouncing of reflections between two mirrors placed in front of one another.
What are those individuals talking about? It’s nothing special, really.
Such a simple conversation is the stuff of everyday talk, wrapping around reality in a movement that is circular and encompassing. It is something we know all too well. What we just did a short time ago while talking to the last person we met. We were surely talking about something, whatever that was, just something…
This conversation is – and re-tells – the utterances of our social existence. Small talk. Not so important and at the same time all that there is.
Small talk is neither small nor big. It is non-dimensional and rather stretchable. Small talk, big talk, we always keep ourselves busy by saying something. We fill the space with our words, however important or negligible they may be. Most of the time, when we don’t do it, someone else does. And when nobody else does it, there is a good chance that we are alone. That is why we always keep up the talk in an enactment of « aboutness » that wraps itself around reality like a warm coat.
There are cases in which we pull the words apart, stretching the space between them. This crevice is always a loaded territory and a theater of tension. Likewise, when we pull two words apart, the space between them is miraculously filled with other words which seem to have always been there. An implied and hidden texture unfolds when we try to make the knots of language looser. I believe this often becomes apparent in « A Collection of Smiles ».
The acoustic space where this all happens is closed and – from within a Leibnizian perspective – has no windows, just an infinite net of internal implications and textures ready to unfold. As in a baroque painting, where no background is visible and the light seems to come from within, no sounds from the outside world have been used. There are no field recordings or samples to comment upon, integrate or illustrate the meaning of words. Instruments – as placeholders, totems, abstract interval-machines – replace concrete reality.
In many of my pieces, I’ve dedicated considerable attention to the sonorous potential of speech and language. No language is possible without interaction. It exists between an emitter and a receiver, even if the receiver is an imaginary one and inhabits a seemingly empty space.
In « A Collection of Smiles » it has been my intention to observe, capture and portrait the acoustic manifestation of language as something that happens in between. Between multiple people, multiple voices, multiple mouths.
One speaker says: “I am smiling again.”
Another answers: “I can hear it.”