Operatic rhetoric

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YouTube has created a new musical opportunity — musical accompaniment for recorded spontaneous orations, as a kind of after-the-fact sprechgesang.

I'm not sure who did this first, or when, but I've seen it more often over the past few months. Here's one of my favorites:

Another setting of the same oration (by Brandon Ethridge, who has done lots of these):

The same treatment for a drug ad:

A political speech:

And a sermon:

The same preacher, set in a heavy metal style (which I think fits better, FWIW):

Some examples respond musically to rhetorical fragments rather than intact discourses:


  1. DBMG said,

    May 21, 2021 @ 9:48 am

    "I'm not sure who did this first" -> There's Peter Ablinger's composition "Voices and Piano" from 1998, of which there are several excerpts of performances on Youtube and at least one recording on Kairos.

  2. Yuval said,

    May 21, 2021 @ 10:22 am

    That last genre has received its own title sequence on Netflix.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 21, 2021 @ 1:11 pm

    The Copeland/metal one seems to sort of define a genre of its own. No doubt there are those within the various metal subcultures pretentious enough to embrace the term Sprachgesang, but I would not endorse it myself.

    Way back in the hazy crazy psychedelically experimental days of 1966, the Byrds used pre-existing audio of dialogue between a pilot and control tower as one ingredient in "2-4-2 Fox Trot (the Lear Jet Song)." And then there's this avant-garde classical thing from 1971 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus%27_Blood_Never_Failed_Me_Yet, although there the pre-existing found audio that the composition incorporated was itself already (sort of) sung.

  4. peterv said,

    May 21, 2021 @ 1:11 pm

    In a similar vein, here is Flo and Joan @FloandJoan on Twitter with “Handforth Parish Council: The Musical”, quoting and singing words uttered in what may – or may not – have been an official meeting of Handforth Parish Council


  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 21, 2021 @ 1:18 pm

    And then of course there was this massive 1985 hit (#15 on the Billboard Hot 100 but #1 in many European markets) which uses pre-existing journalist/documentary-film narration about the Vietnam War as the incongruous ingredient in what is otherwise a cliche'd mid-Eighties Groovy Dance Song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sajngb0W6I

  6. Brian said,

    May 21, 2021 @ 3:03 pm

    I actually don't know how far back this goes, as a musical technique! I'm curious if anyone here can fill in the blanks for me.

    An obvious example might be David Byrne & Brian Eno's 1981 release "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts". But the tracks are mostly built around edited speech, where pauses are added and removed to better fit the musical accompaniment. To me, nothing on that album really feels like "the same thing" as this. (And of course, there are much earlier examples of what they did among the less well-known experimental composers.)

    Hermeto Pascoal played with this technique quite a bit. I think the first recorded example would be his 1984 album "Lagoa da Canoa Município de Arapiraca". Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnJDNl84C8k for an example made from a sports announcer. Later albums have more examples of this technique, which he termed "Som da Aura".

    Of course musique concrete dates back to the 1950s (which is when reel-to-reel tape recorders started making audio recording and editing accessible to individuals). Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening are considered the pioneers of tape music, and they used recorded conversation in their works from the start, but not (as far as I know) in the manner shown here. I know there is an early example of a musique concrete composer building an lengthy work on the recording of an auctioneer's chant, but I no longer remember who or when that was.

    Going even farther back, I know that Harry Partch in the 1930s would write down brief bits of overheard dialogue in his journal, which he would then notated the music of how it had been spoken. Works like "U.S. Highball" (1943+) appear to be built up from many snippets of conversation between transients, police, and others encountered during a trip riding the rails. (But, of course, who can say how faithful it is to what was actually said or heard.)

  7. KevinM said,

    May 21, 2021 @ 5:20 pm

    The great Mononeon channels an impromptu speech (?) by Cardi B. This is not merely a joke, but a virtuoso performance.


  8. chh said,

    May 23, 2021 @ 12:19 am

    Part of what makes some of these cool is that if you're harmonizing with the f0 contour of the speech, there's lots of options for how to do that, just as there would be for a conventional melody. There have been some youtube channels doing that and showing the chords in their harmonizations since around 2014. (swears in this one) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoLS9We9hl4

    I remember around that time messing around with sinewave speech a la Robert Remez's perceptual organization papers, and trying to get three-note chords out of tracks of F1 through F3, ignoring F0 altogether. If you slow playback down enough you get some stable moments, and some counterpoint too.

  9. David Morris said,

    May 27, 2021 @ 3:53 am

    Australian composer Rob Davidson has created a number of choral works based on speeches mainly of politicians, recorded by The Australian Voices conducted by Gordon Hamilton. Most of these are Australian politicians, but I found one based on Donald Trump which will be of the most interest to the biggest sub-section of LangLog readers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IAu9FvnLNE
    (I don't know the composer or conductor, and the choir is based in another city.)

  10. 艾力·黑膠(Eric) said,

    May 31, 2021 @ 12:13 pm

    I can’t believe nobody included Pepe Silvia.

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