An Introduction to the Beeayboll Project

by Seth Dellinger
           

p.  1  -­‐  The  original  Beeayboll  grid       p.  2  -­‐  The  Beeayboll  mirror  grid       p.  3  -­‐  An  introduction  to  the  Beeayboll  Project  

The  original  Beeayboll  Grid    

 

 

 

The  Beeayboll  mirror  grid  

 

The Beeayboll Project
(An Introduction)
 

  Beeayboll  is  a  sonic  language  I  invented  in  early  1999  in  the  attempt  to  begin  to  organize  the   music  I  was  hearing  in  my  head,  music  that  I  came  to  realize  I  could  spell.      Originally,  the  language   consisted  of  a  vocabulary  of  eighty-­‐eight  syllables,  a  number  that  has  since  doubled  (and  will  likely   continue  to  grow  in  the  future).    The  project  lay  dormant  for  many  years  when  I  was  not  involved  in   music  making,  but  was  picked  up  again  in  early  2009,  and  has  since  been  developed  extensively  as  a   vehicle  for  my  solo  vocal  music.    In  the  future  I  also  plan  to  organize  a  choir  to  perform  ensemble   vocal  music  using  the  same  system.     Speech  as  music     One  of  the  central  ideas  that  led  to  the  creation  of  Beeayboll  was  the  attempt  to  recreate  the   experience  we  have  when  hearing  speech  or  song  in  a  foreign  language  that  we  do  not  understand,   when  we  experience  speech  as  pure  sound  without  referential  meaning.  Simultaneously,  I  have   attempted  to  use  and  develop  structures  already  found  in  normal  speech  in  a  deliberately  musical   way  in  order  to  produce  musical  forms  that  do  not  normally  occur  in  everyday  language.    By   composing  with  meaningless  phonetic  sounds,  I  have  used  Beeayboll  to  explore  the  rhythmic  and   melodic  aspects  of  spoken  language,  unrestricted  by  grammar  or  the  need  to  communicate   semantic  meaning.           From  the  beginning  of  the  project,  I  have  also  regularly  practiced  phonetic  improvisation  -­‐   what  in  other  contexts  has  been  called  glossolalia,  or  speaking  in  tongues.    Not  unlike  the  melodic   themes  and  subsequent  improvisations  of  the  jazz  tradition,  my  phonetic  improvisations  often  build   upon  the  momentum  generated  by  the  composed  material.    While  I  am  not  uninterested  in   narrative  and  poetic  expression,  I  have  deliberately  avoided  the  insertion  words  from  English  or   any  other  operative  human  language  into  my  songs.    While  I  am  fascinated  by  language  in  all  its   aspects,  the  Beeayboll  project  is,  above  all,  a  vehicle  to  explore  the  world  of  the  sounds  of  language.     Any  meanings  derived  from  the  music  are  entirely  the  property  of  the  listener.*      

Syllabic  and  melodic  phrasing     There  are  no  guidelines  for  pitch  or  rhythm  in  Beeayboll  (although  for  any  given   composition  or  performance  they  may  be  determined  in  any  manner,  including  with  precise  musical   notation).    I  often  restrict  pitch  to  a  single  tone  and  rhythm  to  a  constant  pulse  in  order  to  
                                                                                                                         
*  Likewise,  the  project  in  itself  does  not  have  a  political  or  social  message,  or,  at  the  very  least,  does  not  intend  to  have  

one.    Yet,  unavoidably,  as  I  have  accumulated  life  experiences  and  simultaneously  meditated  on  my  art,  I  have  found   many  ways  in  which  the  one  reflects  the  other.    There  are  several  matters  in  this  connection  that  I  would  eventually  like   to  discuss.    And  should  any  interest  in  my  work  lead  to  interest  in  my  views  of  the  world,  I  would  feel  that  it  is  only   natural  to  express  my  opinions.    However,  for  the  time  being,  I  shall  leave  those  discussions  that  other  occasion...  

concentrate  on  the  music  of  the  syllables  themselves.    On  other  occasions,  I  sing  deliberate  melodic   material,  conceived  without  reference  to  the  syllables.    Yet  another  strategy  I  employ  is  to  allow  the   rhyme  schemes  of  syllabic  sequences  and  the  shape  of  the  syllables  themselves  to  suggest  melodic   and  rhythmic  contours,  accents,  phrases  and  cadences,  not  unlike  the  unconscious  paths  followed  in   everyday  speech  (in  this  connection,  it  has  been  natural  for  me  to  include  as  part  of  my  melodic   approach  the  more  subtle  pitch  glissandi  of  human  speech  in  addition  to  traditional  scalar  melody).     Yet  -­‐  once  again  -­‐  given  that  Beeayboll  has  no  grammar,  if  there  be  "sentence"  or  "paragraph"   breaks,  they  may  just  as  well  occur  every  couple  of  minutes  -­‐  or  not  at  all  -­‐  rather  than  after  each   short  thought,  as  ideas  are  normally  expressed  in  human  communication.             And,  because  I  have  so  engrained  Beeayboll's  syllables  into  my  brain/tongue's  muscle   memory,  it  is  just  as  easy  for  me  to  sing  continuously  after  resolving  any  phrase  or  idea  than  to   pause.    "Pausing  in  motion"  in  this  manner  aids  in  the  construction  -­‐  even  spontaneously  -­‐  of  much   longer  phrases  and  melodic  ideas.    Even  before  I  started  the  project  I  became  fascinated  by  the   tradition  among  Buddhist  monks  of  endlessly  repeating  chains  of  syllables  known  as  mantras.    I   composed  a  series  of  my  own  "mantras"  based  on  the  re-­‐ordering  of  syllables  taken  from  the  names   of  family  members  and  close  friends,  committed  them  to  memory  and  cycled  them,  often  for  hours   at  time,  in  my  head.  I  sang  the  mantras  at  length  as  well  and  became  intrigued  by  the  rhythms   created  by  the  combinations  of  syllables,  even  when  sung  as  a  constant  pulse.    These  rhythms   would  remain  constant,  regardless  of  melodic  alterations.    Through  repetition,  the  syllabic  patterns   of  the  mantras  became  as  basic  for  me  as  a  repeating  pitch  on  a  piano  or  guitar,  but  with  the  key   difference  that  they  produced  a  constantly  recycling  and  propulsive  momentum.                   To  return  to  the  discussion  of  phrases  and  phrase  endings  in  Beeayboll  (which  in  many  ways   is  nothing  more  than  a  much  larger  version  of  my  previous  mantras),  the  momentum  of  the   syllables  I  have  just  mentioned  creates  what  for  me  appears  as  unique  opportunity  to  fulfill  two   distinct  musical  functions  simultaneously.    To  use  another  analogy  from  the  jazz  tradition,  one   might  say  that  the  syllabic  tracks  traversed  by  a  vocalist  in  Beeayboll  can  be  used  either  to  be  the   lead  horn  or  as  the  walking  bass.    Unfortunately,  the  Beeayboll  choir  that  I  imagine  does  not  yet   exist,  but  in  multi-­‐track  recordings  that  I  have  made  thus  far,  I  have  already  employed  these  two   functions  together  in  this  manner.    But  the  further  possibility  of  one  vocalist  filling  both  functions   simultaneously  or  in  rapid  alternation  -­‐  and  in  turn,  the  possibility  of  an  ensemble  of  vocalists,  each   of  whom  possesses  this  same  flexibility  -­‐  opens  in  my  mind  the  road  to  an  especially  opportune   malleability  in  the  approach  to  musical  time  and  ensemble  interaction.    The  soloist's  seemingly   never-­‐ending  phrase  may  fade  into  the  sub-­‐strata  of  the  music  by  pausing  in  motion,  and  thus   becoming  the  support  upon  which  a  new  soloist  may  emerge.     Syllables  and  extended  vocal  technique     Shortly  after  restarting  the  Beeayboll  project  in  2009,  I  also  began  to  learn  some  of  the  basic   techniques  of  beatboxing  (or  vocal  percussion),  much  of  which  is  built  upon  the  rhythmic   performance  of  patterns  of  consonant  sounds,  accentuated  by  various  techniques  of  breath  control   and  vocal  shapes  (some  of  which,  by  good  fortune,  were  already  part  of  the  fabric  of  the  Beeayboll  

vocabulary).    Beatbox  techniques  have  added  yet  one  more  layer  of  possibilities  for  the  Beeayboll   system,  particularly  in  terms  of  rhythm,  but  also  new  timbres,  such  as  the  sonic  possibilities  of  the   various  methods  of  lip  oscillation  that  beatboxers  commonly  use.    In  addition  to  beatboxing,  other   expressive  methods  I  employ  with  Beeayboll  include  overtone  singing,  the  "normal"  speaking  voice,   sprechstimme,  inhalation  singing,  various  manners  of  nasal  distortion  and  screaming.    Combining   these  techniques  with  the  increasing  "fluency"  I  have  gained  with  the  syllables  of  Beeayboll,  I  feel   closer  to  another  kind  of  vocal  music  that  I  have  long  imagined,  a  vocal  music  not  based  on  speech   or  song,  but  rather  on  the  voice  as  an  instrument,  perhaps  not  unlike  a  saxophone  or  violin  -­‐  or  even   a  synthesizer.       The  history  of  vocal  music  in  all  the  various  traditions  of  the  world  suggests  that  there  is   perhaps  no  sound  that  cannot  be  replicated  by  the  human  voice.    In  my  own  experience  of  endlessly   repeating  the  syllables  of  the  Beeayboll  system,  I  have  discovered  that  one  of  the  most  efficient   ways  of  cataloguing  the  thousands  of  possible  variants  of  vocal  shapes  is  by  the  names  given  them   by  language.    And  of  course  each  shape  has  important  properties  and  possibilities  completely  apart   from  the  phonetic  sounds  that  they  create.    The  array  of  overtones  produced  by  singing  through  the   vowels  is  just  one  example  of  this.    In  Beeayboll,  I  often  sing  through  patterns  of  syllabic  vocal   shapes  while  employing  some  kind  of  vocal  distortion  that  renders  the  syllables  themselves   unrecognizable,  yet,  because  I  know  how  they  are  constructed,  results  in  sounds  that  I  am  able  to   reproduce  repeatedly.     Composition  in  the  Beeayboll  system       Thus,  the  Beeayboll  project  has  opened  up  many  avenues  of  exploration  for  me.    In  addition   to  the  musical  sound  of  the  unknown  language,  the  musical  elaboration  of  language's  inherent   rhythms  and  melodies,  and  the  instrumental  exploration  of  the  musical  shapes  encoded  within   language  as  produced  by  the  human  vocal  instrument,  there  is  one  further  aspect  of  language  that   fascinates  me  as  a  composer  and  improviser,  and  that  is  the  idea  that  the  syllables  themselves  may   be  treated  as  an  element  of  musical  structure  on  the  same  plane  as  harmony,  rhythm  and  melody.         If  musical  composition  can  be  described  as  pattern  creation  -­‐  the  combination,  layering  and   interweaving  of  melodic,  rhythmic  and  harmonic  patterns  -­‐  then,  in  Beeayboll,  syllabic  patterns  are   added  to  the  composer's  arsenal.    In  one  sense  this  is  nothing  new,  insomuch  as  song  lyrics  have   always  filled  this  function,  including  making  artful  use  of  rhyme,  alliteration  and  all  the  other  sonic   qualities  of  language  that  are  described  by  the  study  of  literature  and  poetry.    Modern  rap  music  has   perhaps  taken  this  further  than  any  other  form,  including  the  awesome  ability  of  freestyle  rappers   to  simultaneously  improvise  on  the  planes  of  rhythm,  rhyme  and  narrative.    But  since  Beeayboll  is   meaningless,  the  syllables  are  freed  from  any  other  restriction  to  be  constructed  forwards,   backwards,  left  right,  up,  down,  backwards,  upside  down,  etc.    (much  of  what  I  have  done  with   syllabic  patterns  in  Beeayboll  thus  far  might  be  describe  as  serial  techniques).     Just  as  my  understanding  of  melody,  rhythm  and  harmony  contains  enormous  gaps,  the   same  must  be  said  for  my  current  understanding  of  the  musical  functioning  of  phonetic  sounds.    

Despite  my  interest,  I  have  yet  to  pursue  a  serious  formal  study  of  phonetics  and  phonology  and   remain  a  mere  dilettante  in  the  field.    However,  I  have  already  discovered  certain  musical   properties  of  phonetic  sound  -­‐  if  nothing  other  than  the  observation  of  certain  qualities  that  are   different  from  each  other  and  thus  may  be  juxtaposed  -­‐  that  provide  a  wide  field  of  exploration  for   compositional  pattern  making.    This  includes  the  difference  in  momentum  created  by  the  repetition   of  a  single  syllable  versus  a  chain  of  different  syllables  (even  when  sung  with  identical  pitch  and   rhythm),  the  use  of  the  simultaneous  sounding  of  different  syllables  -­‐  what  I  have  provisionally   named  "phonetic  harmony"  (and  the  contrast  between  this  and  the  sounding  of  "unison"  syllables),   and  the  use  of  phonetic  loops  that  may  or  may  not  be  aligned  with  the  melody  or  rhythm  to  which   they  are  sung.     There  are  two  further  compositional  strategies  that  I  have  often  employed  in  Beeayboll   which  I  find  well-­‐suited  to  the  system  although  they  are  not  exclusive  to  it,  and  are  also  ideas  I  have   explored  in  non-­‐vocal  music.         The  first  is  the  use  of  an  inconsistent  meter,  that  is,  for  example,  a  rhythmic  approach  that   does  not  always  involve  regularly  occurring  downbeats.    This  might  mean  a  mean  measure  of  four   beats,  followed  by  a  measure  of  five  beats,  then  two  measures  of  seven  beats,  a  measure  of  three   beats,  etc.    Another  approach  would  be  to  take  a  lopsided  rhythmic  approach  like  this,  but  then   cycle  it  regularly,  such  as  a  repeating  pattern  of  4,  7,  2,  5,  4,  3  beats.    Although  these  approaches  are   just  as  easily  applied  to  instrumental  music,  I  have  found  them  useful  in  Beeayboll  for  two  reasons.     First,  because  I  think  this  kind  of  timing  mirrors  the  irregular  accents  found  in  normal  speech  much   better  than  the  regular  meter  which  is  usually  only  found  in  certain  forms  of  prose  and  poetry,  as   well  as  musical  lyrics.    Second,  while  such  a  meter  can  be  more  difficult  to  perform,  my  experience   has  been  that  the  syllabic  "words"  of  Beeayboll,  when  conceived  as  such  (rather  than  as  rhythmic   groupings  of  varying  lengths),  fit  well  into  an  irregular  meter  of  this  type.    The  challenge  for  the   performer  is  not  so  much  how  to  count  the  phrases,  but  rather  how  to  pronounce  them.         (Of  course,  in  addition  to  the  irregular  meter  I  have  described  here,  regular  occurring   meters,  such  as  4/4  time,  are  also  commonly  used  in  Beeayboll.)     A  second  compositional  strategy  that  interests  me  generally,  but  that  I  have  found   particularly  fruitful  with  Beeayboll  music,  is  a  multi-­‐tiered  approach  to  repetition,  or  looping.    I  first   started  to  explore  this  idea  extensively  with  my  mantras,  described  earlier.    I  usually  recorded  the   mantras  in  text  form  as  four-­‐line  poems,  choosing  line  breaks  where  I  felt  the  strongest  rhythmic   cadences.    The  syllables  themselves  were  generally  grouped  together  as  "words"  of  two  to  five   sounds.      When  singing  the  mantras,  in  addition  to  cycling  them  in  their  entirety,  I  would  cycle   individual  lines,  such  that,  if  the  lines  were  called  A,  B,  C  and  D,  a  mantra  reading  might  occur  as   follows:  A-­‐B-­‐C-­‐D-­‐A-­‐B-­‐C-­‐C-­‐C-­‐D-­‐D-­‐A-­‐B-­‐C-­‐C-­‐D...etc.    In  addition,  the  individual  syllabic  "words"  might   be  cycled,  or  the  lines  might  be  cycled  out  of  order  (ie,  A-­‐B-­‐D-­‐D-­‐C-­‐C-­‐D-­‐A-­‐C-­‐C-­‐C...etc.).    This  strategy   can  be  used  by  an  improviser,  who  might  mentally  imagine  repeat  bars  that  can  be  inserted   anywhere  at  any  moment,  or  by  the  composer,  who  simply  plans  sequences  in  this  manner.         My  experience  with  "segmented  repetition"  of  this  type  is  that,  while  the  length  of  a  given   pattern  will  change  as  various  parts  of  its  innards  get  repeated,  the  identity  of  the  whole  is  still  

quite  recognizable  to  the  listener.    As  mentioned  earlier,  I  find  that  a  sequence  of  syllables  contains   its  own  inner  momentum  quite  apart  from  the  melodic  trajectory  and  metric  placement  that  may  be   applied  to  it.    Taking  advantage  of  this  phenomenon,  I  have  often  used  a  segmented  repetition  of   syllables  while  singing  non-­‐repetitive  melodic  phrases.       Beeayboll  structure,  Beeayboll  fluency     My  suspicion  is  that  my  solo  vocal  performances  of  Beeayboll  may  appear  to  many  listeners,   for  better  or  for  worse,  as  the  result  of  the  extended  meditations  and  involvement  of  an  individual   within  a  world  of  his  own  idiosyncrasies.    However,  with  dedication  and  practice,  any  vocalist  can   learn  the  entire  system.    And  while  entering  this  world  involves  a  commitment  to  learning  a  certain   body  of  material  that  is  admittedly  arbitrary  in  many  ways,  I  think  that  those  with  an  interest  in  an   extended  exploration  of  the  meshing  of  speech  and  song  will  find  abundant  opportunities  in  the   Beeayboll  language  to  develop  their  own  unique  voices  and  accents.*       I  have  already  created  the  basic  exercises  and  training  regimen  for  any  singer  to  enter  the   world  of  Beeayboll.    I  have  also  written  an  introductory  essay  on  the  structure  and  functioning  of   Beeayboll**  that  I  will  not  replicate  here,  but  it  will  be  useful  to  briefly  explain  some  of  the  basic   points.     The  Beeayboll  sonic  language  is  derived  from  an  8x11  grid  containing  one  syllable  in  each  of   its  squares.***    Eight  different  sequences  of  these  eighty-­‐eight  syllables  were  created  by  traversing   the  paths  running  from  each  corner  to  its  opposite.    A  704-­‐syllable  "palindrome"  was  then  created   by  ordering  the  sequences  in  such  a  way  that  the  same  series  of  syllables  would  result  from  either  a   forwards  or  backwards  reading  of  the  entire  chain.    As  the  Beeayboll  project  developed,  another   eighty-­‐eight  syllables  were  generated  by  reversing  the  sounds  of  the  originals  (as  was  a  new   version  of  a  grid,  the  "mirror  grid",  containing  both  the  original  and  reverse  syllable  in  each   square****).    For  example,  the  first  syllable,  "bee,"  generated  "eeb."    The  second  syllable,  "ayb,"   generated  "bay."    And  so  forth.    With  these  "backward"  sounds,  another  eight  sequences  of  eighty-­‐ eight  syllables  were  created  and  the  original  palindrome  was  extended  to  1,408  syllables.    It  was   now  made  to  be  a  palindrome  in  the  sonic  sense,  such  that  if  it  were  sung  backwards  (were  such  a   thing  possible)  it  would  sound  the  same  as  being  sung  forwards.  

                                                                                                                         
*I  am  ready  to  work  with  any  vocalist  interested  in  this  system,  regardless  of  location.    If  you  are  interested,  please  

contact  me.  
**The  exercises,  together  with  the  introductory  essay,  are  available  online  at:  

   

http://www.scribd.com/document_collections/2499468  

***  see  original  Beeayboll  grid,  p.  1   ****  see  Beeayboll  mirror  grid,  p.  2  

  The   exercises   mentioned   previously   can   be   used   by   any   vocalist   to   gain   increasing   "fluency"   in   Beeayboll   ("fluency"   in   this   context   simply   means   the   ability   to   flawlessly   pronounce   any   sequence   of   syllables   in   the   grid).     The   basic   goal   of   the   exercises   is   to   gain   the   capacity   to   pronounce   smoothly   any   polyrhythm   from   any   starting   point   on   the   grid.     An   ensemble   of   vocalists   who  are  fluent  in  this  sense  will  make  possible  the  next  stage  in  the  development  of  Beeayboll.     *       My  hope  for  the  future,  both  as  a  soloist  and  a  composer  of  ensemble  vocal  music,  is  to  use   the  Beeayboll  system,  as  well  as  other  language-­‐based  strategies,  to  develop  new  song  forms  that   capitalize  on  the  inherently  musical  qualities  of  speech  and  the  inherent  musical  capacities  of  the   human   speaker.     I   believe   there   is   great   potential   for   a   new   song   form   tradition   of   this   type   that   could   be   further   developed   by   others   who   are   working   in   similar   areas   and   to   which   Beeayboll   will   only  be  but  my  own  small  contribution.     For  booking  or  correspondence,  please  contact:   sethbdellinger@gmail.com     The  Beeayboll  project  on-­‐line:         http://www.last.fm/music/Seth+Dellinger   http://www.youtube.com/user/beeayboll     *   *   *   *  

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