Sound of a marathon

Solo vocalist with backing track

This piece is about describing a sonic experience in speech and framing it as a piece of music. I made this by taking somebody else’s story and putting their words in my own mouth by lip-syncing. I explore the idea that talking about music can be considered a musical experience itself.

A story was given to me by my friend Ana Ribeiro. She recorded herself speaking about an experience where she had been engulfed unexpectedly by marathon runners whilst walking around a city on a quiet Sunday morning. This story appealed to me because it enabled me to vividly imagine a compelling sonic experience. I was given an opportunity to perform during a concert in Cafe OTO, an intimate and informal venue where people talk and exchange anecdotes as well as listen to music, which was an ideal place to share this story.

Ana’s first language is Portuguese and her way of speaking English is very distinct and pleasant to listen to, but I felt that to just play the recording in a live concert situation with no visual stimulus would not have been effective. It might have been ignored by the audience if there was no physical performance taking place on which attention could be focussed. I chose to maintain Ana’s voice but to perform as a human focal point in order to establish a frame and focus attention on the story. I prepared a pre-recorded audio track, copying Ana’s speech to make it look like I was speaking, and once this had been established I confused the situation by revealing that I was lip syncing, then finally revealing Ana’s voice.

I knew that I would not be able to memorise the entire text and replicate it perfectly onstage, so this audio track enabled me to fake it. The whole performance is lip-synced. I hint this to the audience at 5:40, where the spoken text drops out leaving only the sounds of saliva in my mouth. Ana’s voice then appears in place of my own at 6:30, as I keep on lip-syncing. I then layered up the spoken track to produce a sonic effect similar to the effect described by Ana of all the runners running in different rhythms, engulfing her.

To make the audio track I ran for 10km then played Ana’s recording on earphones and copied what she said into a microphone, altering my voice by giving it a panting and breathy quality. By doing this I present the idea of a performer as an athlete, making a display of physical prowess onstage by running 10km to the concert hall prior to the beginning of the performance. Through this activity I equate virtuosic musical performances with spectator sports. Performing a concerto or any other virtuosic piece of music is a display of physical prowess. It is a display of skill in the same way that spectator sports are a display of skill.

Ana’s initial audio recording of her story is like a musical score that I used as an impetus to make a piece, akin to an elaborate text score.

2 September 2014, Cafe OTO, London
10 November 2014, Birmingham Conservatoire
14 September 2016, La Plaque Tournante, Berlin
17 June 2018, Pumphouse, Aldeburgh
3 December 2018, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester