The music in detail: Microcosm
The human voice doesn't necessarily have to use words to be expressive. I heard the music of American composer and vocalist Meredith Monk music for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it really made an impact on me—her piece Dolmen Music is one brilliant demonstration of this point.
In my own work, I'm interested in the subtle phonetic differences between sounds that are effectively written and understood as the same thing in different languages, and in Microcosm, I wanted to explore this in music. If you listen carefully to the sound “a” in French and Italian (or Japanese and Arabic), for example, you can hear that they have subtle differences in tone—of course, every person on the planet has a voice that is uniquely theirs, so these differences also apply within languages, dialects, communities, families, etc.
Like the intermingling of different cultures in a cosmopolitan environment, I wanted these sounds to interact with each other in Microcosm, and I decided to do this using a technique called FM synthesis, where one sound modulates the frequency ("vibration" rate) of another. For the purposes of this track, I stuck to languages I know reasonably well, so I sampled a pure “a” sound spoken by French, Italian and Swedish natives, and modulated slowly through the different language pairs, Italian modulating Swedish, Swedish modulating French, etc. The resulting sounds are "sung" to each of the 16 notes of the harmonic scale in series, moving gradually from the note closest to equal temperament (the root, A), to that which is furthest away (the seventh degree, almost exactly halfway between equal temperament D and E flat).
Through this process, I created a series of phrases which I then interacted with by improvising on the 16-tone piano, the piano in dialogue with the voices. I improvised each piano phrase several times, and created the final track by cutting and combining these improvisations. You can hear me performing the track live below.