According to the Ancient Greeks, the origin of grammar was not the gramma, or letter, but the stoicheion, a vowel sound. Speech and melody both involved the organization of tone: on according to verbal reason and the other according to pitch. The ambiguity of speech and song is characteristic of Greek poetry. The congruence of harmonics, rhythmics, and grammar were thought to be theoretical abstractions from an original verbal / musical unity.

Stoicheia, the ancient Greek word for vowels, is the title of my piece for five female voices, three saxophones, cello, bass and two percussionists. It is based on a progression of vowels, beginning with [u] in a low register, and progressing to [o], [a], [ei], and finally to [i]. The acoustic properties of vowels are a form-determining parameter. The instruments and voices combine in the first section to reinforce an unbroken stream of vowels with a continuously expanding registral field. This movement of vowels has determined the spectral form of the piece (Fig. 3) Timbral transformations of vowels are created with the additions of nasalization and consonants, creating phonemes from Bulgarian singing. Consonants are also used to create distinct phoneme boundaries, and to accentuate rhythm. Ululations function to create transitions to percussive sections with a narrow spectral field. The final section is a dense textural accumulation of vowels [u], [a], and [i] in all five voices. The piece ends with a gradual filtering down of the spectral field, until the voices dissolve into a single spectral strand with the closed consonant [m].


STOICHEIA:  Textural accumulation of vowels in five voices