Bruno Bossis

The Ambiguous Listening or the Research for Universals: The Example of Electroacoustic Vocality

In the art of music, especially in contemporary music, spoken or sung voice produces a significant object according to three aspects. First, it reveals the speaker’s or singer’s personality and emotional state. Thus, the listening of the voice is partly empathetic (Delalande). Besides, it conveys an articulate language. Therefore, the perception requires at least a segmentation. These first two aspects correspond to the double encoding as defined by Iván Fónagy. However, vocality is also an artistic texture. So I add a third dimension: the artistic expression. All these preliminary observations will constitute the first point of my lecture.
In a second part, I will introduce a listening parameter rather unusual in the past, but willingly explored by contemporary composers: the ambiguity concept theorized by Jonathan Harvey in The Mirror of Ambiguity. Speakings, his piece for ‘formantized’ orchestra (formants are added to its sounds thanks to IRCAM technology) is a particularly interesting example of vocality as a metaphor of ambiguity. From different elements drawn from my own study of this piece, I will show how the composer relied on an ambiguous listening as a model of perception.
The third part of my talk will focus on the analytical approach of ambiguity. I will show how the quality of ambiguity assumes a part of the transmission of both the meaning and the musical poetry. Analyzing the parameter of ambiguity opens new perspectives if one considers this notion as an expressive function in itself. In Berio’s Omaggio a Joyce, the destruction of the voice paradoxically amplifies the meaning. Other examples will be described (e.g. Mikrophonie II by Stockhausen). In Speakings, Harvey invites the listener to deal with the universals which are crisscrossing ages of life and different civilizations. The ambiguity of the transformed voice and the quasi-humanity included in the formantized orchestra sounds combine in a new listening model involving the duality of ambiguity/meaning.