Category Archives: Music and language

The Language of Gesture and the Moving Image

Representing speech by graphic means is something we humans have been doing for some 5000 years. This text is “what I’m saying”, captured in writing.

Of course, I have never really said this, never spoken these words. This text is born in writing. Like most written texts, it is a simulation of speech that awaits its realization in the reader’s imagination. In yours.

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Reverend Father Adam, Whence Didst Thou Get Music?

What is the origin of music? — And how does music relate to language? Scientific research into these questions is booming. Psychologists, neurologists, cognitive scientists, biologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and musicologists are in the origins business. Despite the fact that we’ll never have the kind of evidence that may lead to a scientifically valid answer.

Theories may be fables. They still can be evaluated by how well they connect the things we know, and by their power to inspire new enquiries.

One idea that may seem obvious and common sense is that there are aspects of language — more particularly, of speech — that can be called ‘musical’ and expressive: the ‘rhythm’ and ‘melody’ of speech, or prosody. Rudiments of melody, or intonation, are present in the most basic human and animal vocal expressions — screams, calls, sighs, grunts, and so on. Continue reading

Seckendorff, alias Peale

Is speaking a kind of singing? Are we talking tunes?

The common sense answer is: evidently not. Music — most music at least — has fixed pitches, pitches that make up a scale. If we speak of ‘speech melody’, we’re simply using the word ‘melody’ in a broader sense.

Seckendorff shows the expression belonging to a toothache (after a drawing by Wilhelm Tischbein).

Seckendorff shows the expression belonging to a toothache (after a drawing by J.H.W. Tischbein).

Gustav Anton Freiherr von Seckendorff was not a common sense man. Seckendorff thought that speech too has its scale, though with much smaller intervals. Singing is a kind of speaking, but louder, and in the effort of producing volume we loose the finer pitch distinctions of speech. In fact, all speech is a kind of music – he called it ‘the concert on the musical scale of speech’.

This allows us, Seckendorff thought, to bridge the gap between speaking and singing. He demonstrated this by declaiming poems to his own piano accompaniment, producing a kind of speech-song, or rather song-speech. Continue reading