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John Hudak - Sotto Voce

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Artist: John Hudak

Album: Sotto Voce

Label: Conv

Review date: Feb. 18, 2006

John Hudak may be a new name to many, but has been an adventurer in sound since the age of 4, when he first began to develop his chops upon a variety of instrumentation. His time at university was spent broadening his artistic scope to encompass video work, photography, creative writing and dance. It was not long before he started composing his own soundtracks for the performance art pieces he would create and enact. Recent years have seen the American concentrate his efforts on sound and, in particular, the voice of nature.

Sotto Voce is a continuation of his explorations in the linguistic realm. While 2004’s Room With Sky used the composer’s own voice as source material to create a marathon piece of vibrant noise, this latest work focuses on the voice patterns of two bastions of the literary avant-garde, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce (T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett were among those not to make the final cut). Recordings of the pair reading from their own works “The Making of Americans” and “Finnegan’s Wake” were converted by Hudak into musical notes using pitch and velocity, then transferred to the sound of a particular instrument, in this case a midi-triggered pizzicato cello.

The end results have a meandering quality not, unsurprisingly, unlike the gentle undulations of the human voice, but are reminiscent too of some entries in Morton Feldman’s minimalist canon. Unfortunately, like the human voice, too much Sotto Voce can leave you weary, the cello’s monotonous tone stretching the patience a little too far.

Still, this is an interesting exercise which leaves plenty of room for after thought. One is left wondering, for instance, whether a listener’s familiarity with either the texts or the author’s voice may enhance the experience. And what would be the consequences for melody, timbre and expression if foreign languages were used instead of English? Hudak himself has ambitions for the project with the next stage being a series of solo performances given by the composer, with Hudak reading texts aloud while his voice is converted to music in real time.

By Spencer Grady

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