Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? (Isaiah 40:21, NRSV)

Click here to listen to this piece on youtube.

This composition is encoded text. That is, the music functions not only as a musical composition unto itself, but also as an encoded message of the text from Isaiah shown above.

This encoding was done by first translating the text into phonetic sounds using the International Phonetic Alphabet. Each phonetic vowel sound was assigned a chord type (major, major 7th, and so on…that is, not a specific chord such as C7, but a general chord not assigned to a specific root note) along with a primary melodic note in relation to the chord (the root, third, fifth, or seventh). Each consonant sound was assigned to a melodic phrase to be interpreted relative to the primary melodic note. The root of the chord and the rhythm of the melody was left to be selected by the composer—as well as the manner of the harmonic accompaniment.

Phonetic sounds instead of letters were chosen as the basis for the translation for several reasons. Using phonetic sounds allow the capture of the same sounds in alliteration or rhyming whereas relying on the letters would be less reliable for this. Further, the phonetics approach allowed a better capture of the rhythm of the text which an approach with letters would obscure.

Part of the thinking behind attempting this approach was to add new elements to the music in a pure way, eliminating the bias of the composer. Now certainly the process for this composition outlined above included plenty of input and meddling from the composer. But some of the elements brought in—harmonies, melodic fragments, and form—were out of the hands of the composer.

To some it may sound odd, trying to eliminate the bias of the composer. But the artistic building process—despite it being often called “creation”—is really predominantly regurgitation of the artist’s own aggregated experiences—or, if you will, biases. Thus being able to bring in some new elements to the music, completely unfettered from the composer’s perspective, seemed a worthwhile pursuit, being that it feels to be a rare event.

Click here for a PDF of the sheet music.

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