Language (2017)

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Language (2017)

30.00

Instrumentation
Solo Violin

Duration
15 min

Commissioned by
West Cork Chamber Music Festival

Composed For
Miranda Cuckson

About The Work
Inspired by Messiaen’s transcriptions of the language of birds and his subsequent compositions based on the material he found, this work is an exploration of human language.

At the heart of this composition is the desire to confront the line between language and music. This led me to two questions: To what extent does language influence music? And at what point does something become music?

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My main discovery was made after I started to notate the music of a myriad of human languages. What I noticed is that until emotion and human behaviour are involved, there is no musicality. For example, in English, ‘love’ and ‘loath’ sound very similar and there is no way of hearing any difference between the two when transcribed and played by an instrument. This holds true for all human languages, which are for the most part an arbitrary collection of sounds. But if you transcribe an Italian couple having an argument or professing their love for each other, music appears. This discovery was inspired by Noam Chomsky’s groundbreaking theory of Universal Grammar. The idea of Universal Grammar is that language is hard-wired into the brain. The theory suggests that linguistic ability becomes manifest without being taught, and that there are properties that all natural human languages share. In essence, this would mean that there is in fact only one human language, with lots of accents. I went on to collect many more fragments of human language, observing many musical peculiarities hidden within. Now I cannot help hearing these musical motifs when talking to people!

The treasures of human language that I transcribed and selected for this piece are, in each case, what my ear suggests to be some of the most definitive recurring characteristics of each language. These linguistic fragments are heard in a series of echoing interlingual conversations. This one-movement work for solo violin has ten continuous sections and closes with a global conversation - giving the listener the opportunity to observe, to meditate upon, and ultimately to gain a deeper understanding of our language, of our music, and of ourselves.