Electronic Voice Phenomena       


Instructions for Catch* Construction

Posted 18 April 2013 by | Comments Off


Honor Gavin explores three ways in to her piece 0121 Stimmtausch, which she is developing for Electronic Voice Phenomena.

*Catch, n. 14. Music. Originally, a short composition for three or more voices, which sing the same melody, the second singer beginning the first line as the first goes on to the second line, and so with each successive singer; a round. ‘The catch was for each succeeding singer to take up or catch his part in time’ (Grove). Subsequently specially applied to rounds in which the words are so arranged as to produce ludicrous effects, one singer catching at the words of another (OED)

1. Think about what Augustine says about time in his Confessions.

In the second half of his autobiographical Confessions, Augustine of Hippo goes meta. After a series of chapters devoted to the story of his early years, adolescence, education and eventual conversion, the African bishop switches from narration to a form of auto-analysis. What is this thing called ‘memory’, by which Augustine has been able to recollect his former experiences? What is this thing called ‘time’, in which those experiences occurred and which has moreover been passing whilst Augustine has been recounting? What a long time has indeed passed, Augustine remarks, even whilst he has been talking about time! What is time? Is it nothing but the things we measure it by, such as the solar loops of the sun and planets? No, says Augustine. Instead he keeps on trying to think about time by thinking about voices and the sounds they make. ‘For example’, Augustine says, ‘a physical voice begins to sound. It sounds. It continues to sound, and then ceases. Silence has now come, and the voice is past. There is no sound. Before it sounded it lay in the future. It could not be measured because it did not exist; and now it cannot be measured because it has ceased to be.’ A few pages later he asks us to think about what’s going on when we remember a psalm by heart and then recite it. What he says now makes it seem as if it is by tongues and tonsils vibrating that time gets sucked out of the future, as if it is by bodies throatily gurgling, swallowing air, and sounding that the world turns and time happens. ‘Before I begin’ to recite this psalm of mine, says Augustine, ‘my expectation is directed towards the whole. But when I have begun, the verses from it which I take into the past become the object of my memory. The life of this act of mine is stretched in two ways, into my memory because of the words I have already said and into my expectation because of those which I am about to say. But my attention is on what is present: by that the future is transferred to become the past.’ By reciting I suck the psalm from the future into the present — and yet, since I know the psalm by heart, the future was also surely a memory. By a series of glottal catches, the commonplace stuttering of our breath stream, the future is sucked into the present, swallowed, and restored to memory. Someone humming is the sound of time coming out of the future. To beat, you need to breathe first. Reading Augustine, it doesn’t surprise me to learn to that the etymology of psyche has to do with breathing.

 2. Find the numbers of dead relatives in out-of-date telephone books and dial them.

I dreamed last night of 0121, the code for the city of my early years and adolescence. These days I live overseas, so it’s no surprise that the dream began with a sea journey. The ship was cramped and dirty. The captain tried to make me sleep in a bed that someone had recently died in — I could see their imprint still in the mattress — but, horrified at the thought, I refused to. Instead I ran up the wooden stairs and discovered the existence of luxurious quarters from which I had been excluded. These turned out to be located in an exact replica of my secondary school’s assembly hall. I went to school in Handsworth, Birmingham. We used to hum collectively whenever a teachers’ back was turned. Such jokes made the break come more quickly, maybe. Anyway, in my dream I discovered a telephone sat silently in the school’s corridor. Just like I did the first time I ever went abroad without my parents — and just like E.T. too — I tried to phone home, but made an error with the area code. Instead of my mom, an old man answered and started speaking into my ear strangely, shiveringly. It wasn’t the voice of Brian Cobby — ‘speaking clock’ of my youth — that much I knew. I continued listening for a while then, overwhelmed when suddenly I realised the man was speaking backwards, smashed the handset down and desperately tried to recall the correct number. The phone before me was a rotary dial, with letters as well as numbers. We had these kind of phones in my house when I was small, but by then the letters were already useless — I never knew anything but all-figure dialing, and always wondered what ABC had to do with 2, what DEF had to do with 3, and what would happen if I spelt out certain words by sticking my fingers into the perforations and spinning. And why did 6 only have two accompanying letters — M and N but no O as expected? I tried again to remember the correct area code. Inside cities, codes used to be letters: MIDland 3240, I found out recently, was the telephone number listed in the directory for my great-grandfather’s rubber waterproofs shop in central Birmingham. A few names down from his was a number for an Undtkrs: ASTon Cross 1696. My mom used to use my gran’s telephone number for our house’s alarm password, I remembered, but it wasn’t my gran that I was trying to contact. At this point my dream went meta. In the dream, I became interested in the materials being used to build the dream. In the dream, I remembered how I had been born not long after someone had died, and I felt terribly sad that I hadn’t done what the ship’s captain had wanted. I twisted the telephone’s cord around my finger — the cord was spiral — and looked out of a glassless window. The city beyond my school was not as I recalled it. Instead the city was as it was before I had been born in it. Here was the Bull Ring before they filled it with concrete then demolished the concrete and built the Bullring. And here was a tram totally unlike the Midland Metro that today connects Birmingham with West Bromwich. In my dream, the tram was plastered with monochrome advertisements, but the landscape it passed through was Technicolor. And that – my dreaming dream now knew — was why the old man had spoken backwards. That was something I needed to listen again to. The man had spoken like that — my dreaming dream knew — to teach me that technology isn’t modernity: technology is time’s mixture, many presents embedded together, turbulence, an Extra-Terrestrial advanced enough to land on Earth trying to phone home with an instrument assembled from a Speak and Spell, a coffee tin, and an umbrella.

3. Listen to J Dilla’s Donuts, specifically ‘Lightworks’.

J Dilla, also known as Jay Dee or by his full name, James Dewitt Yancey, assembled most of Donuts in a Los Angeles hospital bed. The record was released three days before his death from a rare blood disease in 2006. Donuts is essentially a series of hip-hop instrumentals; many of the supremely selected samples have themselves since been sampled. ‘Time: the Donut of the Heart’ creases 1975‘s ‘All I Do Is Think Of You’ by The Jackson 5 into “Sweet” Charles Sherrell’s ‘Yes It’s You’ of 1974 and was used by The Roots in 2006’s ‘Can’t Stop This’. ‘Lightworks’, a track that runs to just under two minutes in total, takes its name and main material from an electronic jingle written for a cosmetics company by American composer and electronic music pioneer, Raymond Scott. Scott started off in Swing, worked as a pianist for CBS radio, mostly composed not on paper but via phrases hummed to his band, and in 1946 established ‘Manhattan Research’, which in Scott’s words was ‘a dream centre where the excitement of tomorrow is made available today’. Electronic telephone ringers numbered amongst sonic inventions such as the Clavivox and the Electronium. According to Scott, the latter composed by artificial intelligence. Listen to Dilla’s ‘Lightworks’, then listen to Scott’s, then listen again to Dilla’s. Listen to how Dilla’s beats catch and catch at Scott’s electronic bubbles and vice versa. Think about what YouTube commentators might mean when they say Scott was Dilla before Dilla. And as you are listening, likewise think about the following lines from Augustine’s Confessions, which for Augustine are a way of explaining the very making of heaven and earth: ‘When a song is sung, the sound is heard simultaneously. It is not that unformed sound comes first and is then shaped into song. Any sound that is made first passes away, and you will find no remnant of it which you can recover to impart coherence to it with artistic skill. That is why a song has its being in the sound it embodies, and its sound is its matter. The matter is given form to be a song. In this sense, as I was saying, the matter of making sound is prior to the form of singing. The priority does not consist in the potentiality to make song. The sound is not the maker causing the singing, but is provided by the body for the singer’s soul to turn into song. It is not prior in time. It is emitted at the same time as the song.’ Learn how to construct a catch for three voices or more.


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