As a throat-singing composer, people often ask me “how did you learn to do it?” I have two narratives. One, as an adult, I heard Tuvan throat singing, was completely wowed by it, wanted to do it, spent many hours on long commutes practicing in my car until I could do it, and, years later, started to perform. The other narrative is non-linear. When I was composing my vocal concerto, I rediscovered cassette tapes I made as a six year old. It turns out that I was singing multiphonics as a kid. Reflecting on that later, I thought of linguistic research on childhood language acquisition, as well as Sir Richard Attenborough’s statement that the human vocal mechanism is capable of many more sounds than are necessary for language. Children often babble before they can speak. Babbling repertoire is not completely chaotic. It is a way to develop both physical dexterity to perform adult phonetic structures, and as well as aiding in the phonological development of the child. I am interested in that period of babbling when the child’s repertoire of sounds includes sounds that are later filtered out by adult language.
Metaphorically, my musical practice is about reclaiming that personal repertoire of sounds that adult language filters out. When composing, I often acquire an instrument for which I am composing and learn to play it by “babbling.” In babbling, I am in search of sounds that are somehow compelling to me. I have two examples on video of my babbling for woodwind instruments. The first is a hacked saxophone (an alto saxophone with a seven-foot tube inserted between the neck and the body) and the second is a clarinet (in which I am vocalizing the noise formant, “ssh,” through the instrument in order to activate more amplitude of “air” sounds.
This composition for Splinter Reeds helped extend my babbling practice beyond the woodwind instruments that I know well (clarinets and saxophones) to include the oboe and bassoon (for which I have heretofore only composed in orchestral contexts). I was also inspired by the weird and wonderful prospect of the combination of sounds of all five instruments hacked and babbling.