You are on page 1of 13

An Analysis of Jonathan Harvey’s “Mortuos

Plango, Vivos Voco”
By Patricia Lynn Dirks

Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco is a tape composition by British composer Jonathan Harvey. Completed
in 1980 as a commission by the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, it was realized at IRCAM (Institute
de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique-Musique) with the technical assistance of Stanley Haynes
(Harvey 1981, 22). The piece is based on two natural sound sources; the great tenor bell at Win-
chester Cathedral and the voice of Harvey’s young son, a chorister there from 1975 to 1980 (Man-
ning, 233). The title and text of the work are taken from the bell’s inscription: “Horas Avolantes Nu-
mero, MortuosPlango: Vivos ad Preces Voco” [I count the fleeting hours, I lament the dead: the living
I call to prayer]. Harvey analyzed the bell’s harmonic spectrum with the fast Fourier transform (FFT)
program at IRCAM. Synthesizing and mixing was done with IRCAM’s version of MusicV, originally
created by Max Mathews in 1969. (1) The boy’s voice was synthesized from a live recording using the
singing synthesis program CHANT developed by Gerald Bennett and Xavier Rodet. (2)

I conducted my own analytical research in relation to this work to further investigate the harmonic
spectra of the bell and the boy’s voice. Samples were taken directly from the compact disc recording
of Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco (Harvey 1990) and saved as Sound Designer II stereo sound files at a

On comparing the A value to the existing sec- tions of Mortuos Plango. thus proving that the overall form is based on the golden mean). All samples were analyzed with the 1992/93 spectral analysis program AnnaLies Version 3.. C4=261Hz. F5=698Hz. To find the value for B.= 0.. F4=349Hz. Vivos Voco. G5=784Hz and A5=880Hz. (3) The software performs a Short Time Fourier Transform (STFT) analysis of the samples and stores the information in a Fast Fourier trans- form (FFT) file. Each of the sections is announced by and based on one of the eight lowest partials from the bell’s harmonic spectrum (Harvey 1981. C5=523Hz. Each harmonic present relates not only to the pitch material but also to the duration of each section (Harvey 1990.2. find the formant regions present in each sample and compare the results. Vivos Voco contains eight sections.Eb4=311Hz. .618. this time with a starting value of 5 minutes and 33 seconds. Diagram 1.sampling rate of 44100 Hz. all sam- ples recorded were analyzed at a window length and hop size of 4096 samples. Then the A value is converted back into minutes and seconds. with a hamming win- dow type.618. with a result of 5 minutes and 33 seconds. which can then be displayed in a 2D or 3D format. or 206 seconds.618. it is discovered to be the exact starting time of Section G. the total duration of the work (08:58) is converted to 538 seconds and multiplied by the average Golden Mean percentage of 0.e.. the same calculations apply. The A value in- cludes the Sections A through F and the value B. Mortuos Plango. Modulations from one bell transformation to another are generally achieved by sine-tone glissandi and/or tacet pauses. as delineated in the analysis (see Diagram 1). For comparative analysis. The analyzed sample taken at (00:48) of the opening bell toll verifies these eight harmonics and their intensities. The purpose of this investigation is to analyze the harmonic spectrum. 22). where A:B::(A+B):A. further calculations show that they are also based on the Golden Section. Golden Sections. The end result for B is 3 minutes and 26 seconds. While the durations are inversely proportional to the partials of the tenor bell. liner notes). (i. The partials present are related to the following pitches and corresponding frequencies rounded up to the nearest whole number. producing the A value of 333 seconds. a start sample at 0Hz and end sample at 44100Hz.. the shorter the duration and vice versa). (4) To calculate the Golden Section of this work. (Further calculations place the values for A and B into the equation [B/A=A/(A+B)] producing the equal resultant ratio of 0. Sections G to the end of H. especially in the vocal vowel sounds. the higher the partial.0 by David Hirst and Thomas Stainsby. example 1 shows C3=138Hz. created by Chris Scallan and Thomas Stainsby based on the 1991 program An- naLies Version 1. This is proven when the ratio formed by the proportions of the longer segment (A) to the shorter section (B) is equivalent to that of the whole to the longer segment.

gif ) . Legend of symbols used in the analysis. Click image to enlarge (http://econtact.Diagram

In Section A the consonant “t” is followed by one second of silence 01:40 to 01:41 representing the end of one section and the beginning of the next. The chanting is first heard.” When the single bell tolls again at 00:51 it is imposed with the envelope of the voice. The boy’s voice first enters quietly within multiple entries at 00:15 while chanting the text “Horas Avolantes Numero. it is acting as a vowel sound. When dis- played in a 3D image it is clear that it has a short attack and very little sustain. The consonant “t” is of a percussive quality and contains mostly noise. when consonants occur in the voice. and a gradual re- lease. As the chanting fades out. a single distinct bell toll on C4 is heard in intervals of 20 seconds at 00:00. decreasing in volume and variety of pitches until it eventually stops at 00:42. “Horas Avolantes Numero. with many voices chanting to the same text.” The last consonant of “mort”. the seven note bell motive is repeated at 01:20 to 01:36.” at varying tempos. G4 and F4) fades out to silence by 01:07 while the voice merges chanting at 01:00 to 01:29. mort. they are act- ing like the bell toll and when a bell sound has been imposed with a voice-like envelope. At 00:34 the boy’s voice enters again on C4 (this time as a solo voice). It is the second longest section of the work with a duration of 1 minute and 41 sec- onds (see Section A and Diagram 2). 00:20 and 00:40. This quickly chiming figure gradually slows down. The chanting varies in tempo and increases in volume while the bells’ loudness de- creases. chanting “Horas Avolantes Numero. . is emphasized both by a strong accent from the voice and by the absence of any other sounds. at 01:34 to 01:39 the voice begins to sing alone quietly the text “a-vo-lante. This seven note bell motive (beginning with the pitches C4. During the return of the motive. As the chiming is fading out.The first section (Section A. similar to that of a bell-like envelope (5) (see Example 2). Mortuos Plango. Section A begins with a quick succession of tolling bells on var- ious pitches. thus producing a longer attack with no immediate decay. prolonged sustain. C4. Therefore. 00:00–01:41) is based on the second partial of the eight lowest partials of the bell. Mortuos Plango” on the pitch C4.

the formant region is almost one third of the original at 882Hz. little sustain. corresponding to Fletcher’s findings. with a duration of 32 seconds (see Section B).ca/9_2/images/section_B. When the fundamental of this sample is taken down one octave and a fifth to D4 (294Hz). Here the last syllable “aa” is sustained until an ascending and descending glissandi begins in the voice. and a short release. Taking a sample of this vowel “aa” (“father”) the for- mant region can be seen occurring on the third harmonic at 2640Hz with the fundamental at 880Hz (see Example 3). It begins with a short bell toll on G5. 53) Once the glissandi begin. The bell toll has been transforming since the beginning of the section from a bell-like envelope to a voice-like envelope. While this is oc- curring the vowel sounds “aa” (“father”) and “o” (“more”) at 01:49 are being sustained through chanting. and thus the sections. Modulation between the bell’s partials. Harvey Fletcher’s 1953 study states that the formant region for “aa” is around the frequency region of 900Hz.gif ) Section B (01:41–02:13) is based on the seventh partial of the bell. Solo chanting emerges at 02:09 on the text’s phonemes. immediate decay. (Fletcher. it is this figure that modulates the work into the next section. and is the shortest section. occur either by tacet breaks or transforming glissandi. a short attack. The voice then enters with an accented solo spoken consonant “t” at 01:46. “ha raa”. . G5.Click image to enlarge (http://econtact. The vowel sounds are quickly transformed by 01:51 into short consonants with a bell-like envelope.

This bell toll is accompanied by a short cluster of quicker bell tolls in varying registers. While the glissandi are transformed into an ascending glissando in the upper register which continues until the tacet at 03:28 to 03:31. F4. It is then both the glissandi and silence which usher in Section D. Two more bell tolls are heard in succession at 03:05. Ascending and descending glissandi in the lower register begins at 02:44. It is based on the fourth partial of the bell. and is followed by an as- cending and descending glissando in the middle register at 02:50. This section opens with both a short bell toll on F4 and a bell sound with a voice-like envelope and a wide fluctuating vibrato. and is the third longest section with a dura- tion of 1 minute and 18 seconds. .Section C (02:13–03:31) is unique in this work as it is the only section where only the bell sonorities are used. These sounds continue until the next bell toll at 02:36.

F5. Such a technique was accomplished by reading both the bell and boy’s voice sound files . This changing of sound quality over time. the voice announces the opening simultaneously with the bell toll on the pitch F5 singing the text “ha. it is announced with a bell toll on a pitch from the tenor bell’s harmonic spectrum.Click image to enlarge ( In this case. Like all the sections in Mor- tuos Plango. Vivos Voco. Both the bell and the voice begin with bell-like envelopes that quickly become voice-like envelopes by the end of their initial releases. Here the voice’s intensity is shown increasing over time while the bell’s intensity is decreasing over time. a. a”.gi f) Section D (03:31–04:10) is based on the sixth partial of the bell. It is the third shortest section with a duration of 39 f) Click image to enlarge (http://econtact. It is in this sustaining texture that the bell-like and voice-like qualities alternate in prominence for most of the an octave higher than the previ- ous section. is evident in the 3D image of a sample taken of this event (6) (see Example 4).

By 04:15 the bell sounds have ended and downward. continuously-spiraling glissandi on the vowel. The pitch it is based on is C5. By 04:03 the voice and the bell sonorities have begun to de- crease in dynamics and begin to glissando. The remaining events include a bell toll on C5 and a group of short bell sonorities at various upper-register pitches. setting up anticipation of the next section and signaling the close of Section D. A5. At 04:46 ascending glissandi on “aa” takes over all of the voices. It is these constant transformations between the sounds of the boy’s voice and of the bell that unify these contrasting sources of material (Manning. lasting 49 sec- onds. the fifth partial in the bell’s spectral analysis. 233). Both continue in opposite directions until the tacet occurs (04:08–04:10). Vivos Voco. ascending and descending respectively. Section E (04:10–04:59) is the fourth shortest section in Mortuos Plango. “aa. “preces” with varying rhythms. 24). . It is this chorus of glissandi that modulates to the next bell partial. These glissandi continues until 04:46. The bell sonorities at this point remain tacet for the re- mainder of the section.forward and backwards in rapid oscillations of various rhythms (Harvey 1981. The section opens with three simultaneous events: the first being a sung vowel sound “aa” on C5. A chorus of voices enter at 04:30 singing the text. marking the end of Section E by 04:59.” begins.

lasting only 34 The vowel “ee” chanting continues until its transformation into the vowel “aa” (“fa- ther”) at image to enlarge (http://econtact. As the attack is being shortened. When the fundamental is taken down one octave to A4 (440Hz) the formant region is half of the original at 2215Hz corresponds with Harvey Fletcher’s 1929 study that states the formant region for “ee” is around the frequency regions of 300 and 2300Hz (Fletcher. This process of transfor- . it begins with two simultaneous events. 53). The bell toll with it’s voice-like envelope is sustained until the tacet at 05:19 to 05:24. Similar to Section E. and is the second shortest sec- tion in duration. Tak- ing a further look into the vowel “ee” (“eat”) the formant region occurs on the fifth harmonic at 4430Hz with the fundamental at 880Hz (see Example 5). The first is a sustained bell toll on A5 and the second consists of chanting on A5 the vowel “ee”. the text also undergoes a transformation from chanted vowels to rapidly spoken consonants at 05:24. A5. This vowel “aa” is then repeated while its sound envelope changes from that of a voice-like sustain to a bell-like attack.gif ) Section F (04:59–05:33) is based on the eighth partial of the bell.gif ) Click image to enlarge (http://econtact.

Section G does not end with a tacet pause or glissandi. like the ending of the previous section. . At 05:44 bell sounds at various pitches are heard mixing in and out of the pulsating bell tone that already exists. The bell toll’s dynamics continue to pulsate for the remainder of the fourth longest section. The boy’s voice enters at 05:44 singing on a vowel sound. This section begins with a pulsing bell toll on E-flat 4. Unlike previous modulations. is neither preceded by pitch transforming glissandi nor by a tacet pause. Mixed voices of varying tempos enter at 06:15 singing the vowel “aa”. A chorus singing the same vowel appears at a sforzando dynamic at 06:30 with a burst marking the end of the section at 06:33. Section G (05:33–06:33). mixing with the previously sustaining “aa” still on E-flat 4. exactly one minute in duration. the third partial of the tenor bell.mation then extends to changing the vocally produced consonants to rapidly tolling bell sounds at various pitches at 05:27. “aa” (“father”) that pulsates and sustains to the end of the section. It is these bell sonorities that continue while decreasing in tempo and dy- namics until the end of the section at 05:33. image to enlarge (http://econtact. the bell toll is an octave lower than the opening on the pitch f) The last part of this work. 06:49. This is applied to the sound gradually and eventually takes over the bell’s qualities and becomes the bell itself after 08:26 until it fades out to end the work at 08:58. B-flat 5 and D-flat 6. D-flat 5. . 07:41. lasting 2 minutes and 25 seconds. a chorus effect of the boys’ voice sings a quick chord at various intervals (06:34. D-flat 3. Like Section A. It is this variance of dynamics and timings that make these chords so effective against the strict tempo of the bell tolls. It is also the work’s longest section. it is announced with a bell toll that continues to toll on the pitch of the section every twenty seconds. it represents a B-flat minor chord. From analyzing the harmonics present in the vocal chorus. (see Example 6) This is evident as the following pitches are present in each chord. 08:15 and 08:26).gi f) Click image to enlarge (http://econtact. 07:32. The other noticeable dif- ference from the opening constant bell toll is the increased reverberation. Section H (06:33–08:58) is actually on the first partial. of the bell’s spectrum. C3. breathy like quality to the sound. F5. While this transformation and constant tolling occur with the bell sonorities. B-flat 3. 07:06. In this case. The chord itself has a unique quality as it uses the vowel sound “oo” (“moon”) and “aa” (“father”) simultaneously adding a hollow.

La Trobe University). the living. 1981. 5. This sample was re-analyzed at a window and hop length of 512 samples for the purpose of producing a larger display area only. it is clearly based on the tenor bell. Values used in the above calculations were rounded up to the nearest whole number for the purpose of not dealing with units less than one second in duration. One could take the contrast of the bell and the boy’s voice one step further in regards to the inscribed text. For more information about the program AnnaLies. 23–44. see David J. liner notes p. Thesis. 3. The Technology of Computer Music (Cambridge: MIT Press.In conclusion. the durational proportions of each section and treatment of amplitude envelopes. For a more technical discussion of Harvey’s analysis and synthesis techniques.G. whereas the boy’s voice has the ten- dency to act as a free moving spirit throughout the concert hall (Harvey 1990. 2.14). “The Musician-machine Interface in Digital Sound Synthesis. Mortuos Plango.A. see Stanley Haynes. “Horas Avolantes Numero. 6. From its sonorities to the harmonic content of the work. Notes 1. This sample was re-analyzed at a window and hop length of 1024 samples for the purpose of producing a larger display area only. 4.” and interpret the bell as rep- resenting the dead and the boy’s voice. “Digital Sound Analysis and Synthesis Using the Short-Time Fourier Transform” (M. Mortuos Plango: Vivos ad Preces Voco. For more information about the program MusicV. and Max Mathews. Vivos Voco has best been described as an important addition to the repertoire of compositions that employ digital signal processing (Manning. see Jonathan Harvey. 1985. . The bell’s partials are statically distributed in space producing the sonic impression of being inside the bell. 1969).” Computer Music Journal 4/4 (1980). 233). Hirst.

W. 25. 4 (Winter 2004).ca/members-info. Various. Computer Music Currents 5. 28. No. New York: W. 28. Mortuos Plango. Electronic and Computer Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press.” Computer Music Journal 5/4 (1981). Various. with a spe- cial emphasis on electroacoustic music. Hans Tutschku. Manning. Harangue II. Dirks also holds a Bachelor of Music in Honours Composition from Wilfrid Laurier University. 2 (Summer 2001). 2nd ed. Speech and Hearing in Communication. No. No. Vivos Voco: A Realization at IRCAM. . Montréal: Communauté électroacoustique canadienne / Canadian Electroacoustic Community. Volume VII. 100–102. John. Electroshock Presents Electroacoustic Music. and now resides in Ontario.2 Canadian Regions: The Prairies. References Backus.. Harvey. Fletcher. The Acoustical Foundations of Music. 96–8. 1977. Various. pp. 2nd ed. previous works involved the integration of computer music and acoustic elements. 1990. http://www. Norton and Company. pp. pp. 4 (Winter 2001). Currently she is a member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) and holds the position of web administrator for the Association of Canadian Women Composers (ACWC). March 2007.php?id=45 Originally published in eContact! 9. Moment. pp. No. pp. New York: D. Computer Music Journal Vol. Computer Music Journal Vol. 2 (Summer 2005). 25. Van Nostrand Company Inc. 94–6. _____. 84–5. 4 (Winter 2004). Vivos Voco. 1953. Ms.acwc. pp. Computer Music Journal Vol. Computer Music Journal Vol. 29. Presence II (Canadian Electroacoustic Community). Other Articles by the Author Reviews Robert Normandeau. from the University of Calgary. Jonathan. 1993. 22-4. 98–100. No. Harvey. Biography Canadian composer PATRICIAN LYNN DIRKS (1972) earned her Master of Music degree in composition. Claire de terre. WER 2025-2. “Mortuos Plango. Peter. Wergo. Computer Music Journal Vol. She has won various awards for her compositions.