The foundations of speech-melody composition and the dawn of the digital music era

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


The Australasian Computer Music Association


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)




Maltman, J., & Vickery, L. (2019) The foundations of speech-melody composition and the dawn of the digital music era. Proceedings of the Australasian Computer Music Conference 2018, Perth, Western Australia, p 30 -37. Available here.


Speech is a part of our everyday lives, it’s all around us everywhere we go. Since the beginning of recorded music, composers have been seeking new ways to incorporate speech into their works; from the tape loops of Steve Reich in the 1960s, to Peter Ablinger’s works through the 2000s. This paper explores the emergence of speech-melody composition in the early 1980s in the works of Scott Johnson (John Somebody 1982) and Steve Reich (Different Trains 1988). Johnson assembled John Somebody entirely in the analogue domain, while Reich utilised a combination of analogue and digital technologies to create Different Trains. These two works then, sit at the transition between analogue and digital approaches to using technology as a compositional tool. The paper examines the composers’ processes in determining melodic, harmonic and rhythmic content from speech and the influence of shifting technological advances upon them. The discussion takes place in the context of the advent of digital audio in commercial products such as samplers E-MU Drumulator 1983) and Audio Workstations Digidesign (Sound Designer 1985).

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