08 December 2007

Short, Preliminary Dissertation Project Description

A Music of Vocal Technologies and Angolan Technologies of Voice in Literature

I will spend one year in Angola, beginning December 2007, to conduct the creative research for the dissertation project required for the doctoral degree in Computer Music and Multimedia Composition at Brown University. The final form of this project will be the live performance of a newly-designed electronic instrument which interfaces with a computer to play, process, manipulate, generate, and synthesize audio and video. The source material for this work will be created primarily in Angola and will feature texts by Angolan writers and the voices of Angolan writers reading their work.

This work examines themes of voice, writing, and technology in the context of cultural change. Considering oral cultural practices as technologies, the project will use voice and text to explore how Angolan writers draw from a rich set of oral traditions. The focus will be on the possibilities provided by an encounter between contemporary digital technologies and an Angolan literature successful at adapting narrative technologies to make important contributions to Lusophone and African literatures. Angola is an ideal place to explore these themes of technology, change, and adaptation: it has the fastest growing economy on the African continent, is modernizing at an historically unparalleled rate, and sustains a vibrant literary community. Of particular interest are the successes of Angolan authors in maintaining a uniquely Angolan voice through difficult periods of colonialism and civil war. I seek to trace this tradition through to the current generation of Angolan authors who maintain this voice and forge new ones in the present context of development and social change.

The portions of the project to be completed in Angola will be carried out in three stages. Stage one is focused on Portuguese study with particular attention to the language as is unique to Angola, including local vocabulary, accents, and speech rhythms. This stage includes initial contact with the literary community in Luanda facilitated by introductions from renowned writer Manuel Rui and through sponsorship by the União dos Escritores Angolanos (UEA, The Angolan Writers’ Union).

In stage two I will work with a variety of Angolan authors, their texts, and audio and video recordings of them reading their work to create short musical sketches. This composition allows writers exposure to the computer systems I have designed and allows them to evaluate their interest in further collaboration. The sketch production also allows me to tailor the system to the developing needs of the project and to change the system in response to input from the writers. These sketches will be performed for audiences in Angola as they are completed.

Stage three is dedicated to making audio and video recordings of authors reading the primary text or texts of the final project and to designing the overall compositional form of the work. Working with captured footage and with texts written or selected for the project by the collaborating authors, I will begin initial editing of the media and design of the performance system with on-going feedback from the collaborators.

The work will be finished after my return to the United States, incorporating final feedback from my academic advisors, and will receive an initial performance at Brown University. Recordings of the performance will be made available for permanent storage at the UEA, at the National Library and the National Archives in Luanda, and elsewhere as directed by the Director of the UEA and the Ministry of Culture. Every effort will be made for a performance of the final work in Angola at a subsequent date and for primary collaborators to receive invitation to and sponsorship for travel to the premiere.

The project is funded by a Dissertation Fellowship from Brown University and overseen by my dissertation committee chairman and by the Department of Music at Brown University.

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