Paul Lansky interview

When I compose, my main area of interest and exploration is the human voice. Likewise, I am drawn to other composers who focus on this element, so I was incredibly fortunate to conduct a brief interview with Paul Lansky. Lansky is one of the first electroacoustic composers who worked directly with the voice.

Paul Lansky (born 1944) is widely considered one of the original electronic music or computer music composers, and has been producing works from the 1970s up to the present day. He is currently a professor of music composition at Princeton University. He was a pioneer in the development of computer music languages for algorithmic composition, and is a former student of Milton Babbitt and Edward Cone.

Derek Piotr: My first question concerns your first involvement with sound. How did that begin? Do you come from a musical background?

Paul Lansky: I do come from a musical background. My first interest in “sound” as opposed to “music” came in the mid 1970’s when I first worked with speech synthesis.

DP: My next question is directed at your concern with the human voice. It’s a unique sound to work with, being literally the most personal sound on the planet, the most emotional. Words and language are also an important element in human vocalizations, colloquialisms of speech etc. Which aspect is more relevant to you – the language aspect or the emotional impact/directness the voice can convey?

PL: I became interested in the voice because of its expressive qualities within an electronic context. It added something nothing else could.

DP: Now I’d like to ask you for some history on Idle Chatter – it seems very much rooted in aspects of colloquial speech. Am I correct in this? How did the piece come about?

PL: Idle Chatter was directly influenced by my first experiences with rap music in the early 1980’s.

DP: On UbuWeb’s archive there is another vocal piece of yours called Artifice (on Ferdinand’s Reflection). It reminded me very much of the speech experiments of Charles Dodge – was this something you were both using at the time, this speech synthesis?

PL: The piece on the ubu website is my first speech piece and it uses Linear Predictive Coding, as do my Campion Fantasies and the first three of the idle chatter set. I abandoned this technique in pieces like Smalltalk, Now and Then, Things She Carried etc, since it works best at low sampling rates and basically sounds crummy.

DP: Who has had the greatest influence on your work?

PL: Mozart.

DP: Lastly, what works have you yet to complete/accomplish that you hope to in the future? Where do your compositions move from here?

PL: I’ve been working on orchestral music recently. I haven’t done any electronic music since 2005 and probably won’t come back to it any time soon.

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