“We make music when we speak. When we write, the music is in our head, and typing we play the drums. Being fully immersed in writing is like composing and playing music while we drum up our perceptions into letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs. How does it all play together?”
Read this article, and listen to what Oliver Reichenstein has done with music inspired by a paragraph of text. But scroll down and watch the video near the bottom of the article first; that shows the results of his experiment. (I think the video should be at the top of the article, so people check that out before the making-of.)
I find this fascinating, because I have always been interested in the musicality of language. I’ve done may share of analyzing language: I have a Master’s Degree in applied linguistics, and taught English as a foreign language for nearly a decade in another life. I recall doing conversation analysis for my studies and understanding how paying attention to the tiny details in language one shows a musicality in the way people speak. You don’t really hear this much in improvisational speech, but if you hear people who are used to being interviewed, or who are experienced in public speaking, where there isn’t too much hesitation or searching for words, as in the Martin Amis clip used in this example, there is a great deal of music.
Interestingly, I’m editing a podcast episode this morning, and I pay attention to the rhythm and music as I edit, and probably spend too much time editing out the words like “um” and “so.”
I would love to see this experiment taken a bit further, in two ways. First, since I know that Oliver is multilingual, it would be interesting if he did the same thing with some short clips from French and German. This would show how music is influenced by language. The rhythms are different, and the percussive effect of these languages is very different. (For example, French, for the most part, does not have syllable stress within words, and has very little word stress, at least the way English does.)
Second, I would like to see this done with a bit of a Shakespeare speech. Improvised language, like the Amis interview clip, is not as structured as something that is written to be spoken out loud. But the music of a great Shakespearean speech in iambic pentameter is beautiful, and this approach would be instructive to those trying to understand the way Shakespeare worked with words.