Week 8 – Text-Sound Composition

The Electro Acoustic Resource Site defines ‘text-sound composition’ as:

“A genre, originally evolved from poetry (text-sound or phonetic poetry) involving works that are to be heard in the first instance, not read. Artists involved in this genre have come from the worlds of poetry, fine arts, performance (live) art and music. A number of electroacoustic works in which the voice is the only or key sound source belong to this category.”

Bengt Emil Johnson and Lars Gunnar Bodin established the term ‘text-sound composition’ whilst attending a meeting in Hilversum, Holland (1967) as representatives of the Swedish National Radio.

Text-sound compositions have largely been shaped and influenced by earlier movements such as futurism, lettrism, dadaism, music concrete and more…  One of the most prominent early pioneers was Öyvind Fahlström, a Swedish visual artist and poet, who popularised the term ‘concrete poetry’.  ‘Concrete poetry’ related to Pierre Schaeffer’s music concrete.  Text-sound compositions can be thought of as being in the middle ground between music concrete and concrete poetry.  One of the key concepts in music concrete that is also key in text-sound compositions is, the concept of sounds not being listened to in terms of their original context (cause) but, being reworked and layered with other sounds in order to give a new meaning.  The electronic music studio allowed sonic artists to break down components of voice and language and rearrange/fuse sounds together in a new way which had never been heard before.  Most early composers in the genre would only work with pure vocal sounds but, as time went on and the genre evolved many began to integrate the vocal sounds with other concrete sounds and even electronic/synthesized sounds.  Between 1968 and 1977 Fylkingen Records were players in the text-sound genre and, in collaboration with the Swedish Radio they released a number of text-sound LP records.  Notable text-sound artists on the Fylkingen label during this period included Charles Amirkhanian, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Svante Bodin, Henri Chopin and many more…..

For this week’s composition the text used consisted of 2 spoken word political speeches as follows:

  • PM Winston Churchill’s ‘finest hour’ speech (1940). – This is the main text that forms the body of the composition.
  • Adolf Hitler giving a public speech in Nuremberg in 1934 (from the film Triumph of the Will). – This text interrupts the main text, in stark contrast, at various points.

Basically the idea for the piece was to toy with the music concrete concept of reworking sounds in order to present them in a different context.  The context of original speeches is that of positivity, strength and leadership with respect to the deliverer of the speech and the country they represent.  They are basically part of propaganda campaigns which were designed to have an intended effect on their listeners. The message of the main text used (Churchill’s speech) is summed up in the phrase “this was their finest hour” which sends out a positive, heroic message.  For obvious reasons it was not good for these propaganda speeches to acknowledges the true darkness of the period, the horror of war and the evil menace of Hitler, which was the reality of the time.  For this week’s composition, in order to present the same text in a different light, methods of reworking sounds were employed, including:

  • Cleaning Sounds – Obviously using such old recordings required some cleaning up of background noise, pops, crackle etc… This was done using the various module in Izotope RX3. Whilst it was not possible to achieve perfection in sound quality the clarity was radically improved and the sounds maintained a distinctly historic quality to them.


  • Stretching vocals using Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch in order to create dark atmospheric swells and drones.
  • Adding reverbs to sounds.
  • Reversing Sounds.
  • GRM tools delays.


  • Filtering sounds (band pass and comb filtering) and LFO’s were used to modulate filter cut-off’s.
  • Slowing sounds gradually using sliding time scale/pitch shift by Clayton Otey which allows for changing of tempo without changing pitch.

Sliding Time Sacle Pitch Shift

Below is a link to this week’s composition: