OMAGGIO A JOYCE
Documenti sulla qualità onomatopeica del linguaggio poetico.
Date of production: 1958 / 1959
Production: RAI Studio di Fonologia Musicale, Milano - Italy
Ideation: Umberto Eco, Luciano Berio
Composer: Luciano Berio
Assistant: Marino Zuccheri
Voices: Cathy Berberian, Umberto Eco, Ruggero Dadaninos, Marisa Flasch, Furio Colombo, Nicoletta Rizzi
This is a never broadcasted radio program written by Luciano Berio and Umberto Eco titled Omaggio a Joyce. Documenti sulla qualità onomatopeica del linguaggio poetico. (Hommage to Joyce. Documents on the onomatopoeic quality of poetic language.)
Only the last part of the broadcast, the piece itself, was lately presented to the public. The entire broadcast instead remained hidden in the RAI archives for decades…
Subsequently, the piece, conceived for four channels, was recorded in stereo in two versions, the first titled Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (LP Turnabout TV 34177), 1958; the second titled Omaggio a Joyce (LP Limelight LS 86047), 1959. In 1995 it was digitally restored in stereo (CD BMG 09026-68302-2) and this is the version Berio declared as definitive (8 minutes and 9 seconds).
The work resumes the linguistic studies the composer has been carried on for some years in collaboration with Eco during the first stages of the Studio di Fonologia in Milan; these studies were focused on one hand on the sonorous relationships between many different European languages; on the other hand, on the pure vocalism from several point of view: linguistic, phonetic, anthropological, musical. In particular, the construction of a new musical form based on the oscillation between music, literature and multimedia languages can be seen as the result of the interdisciplinary studies carried on at the Studio di Fonologia.
Luciano Berio aimed to the synthesis of different fields to break down the borders of the artistic and scientific specializations between music, poetry and technology. So first of all, the main feature of the composition is the oscillation between oblivion and construction which reminds directly to the poetic writing form. The work is based on the idea of the electroacoustic montage of sounds as well.
This is the first time in history of music a recorded intelligible text was literally « broke into pieces » In particular, the composer had classified the recorded words included in Sirens according to their resonance colors, in relation to the resonance point of the vocal apparatus. The colors are chosen in considerations of the phonetic and their sonorous matter and then elaborated and mixed by the analogical technology of the Studio di Fonologia consisting a large number of electronic devices mostly designed and realized by the physician Alfredo Lietti, during a very long work which was handmade as technological.
The compositional category of the contemporary musical art, using words and vocals as a primary source, playing with the tension between semantic and musical characteristics, through the technology, has been constituted from this moment on.
The intrinsic musicality of the language and the research of infinite possibilities of combining phonemes are very important in this work as well. The tension/relationship between construction of the words and a new elaboration of them and meaning of sounds, which is a peculiar element of the Joyce’s writings, is transposed from the silent written form to a new musical, electroacoustic form. In this way, Berio fragments the Joyce’s text read by Berberian to recompose it in a new technologically elaborated form. The electroacustic elaborations and the montage are realized in the words and texts as on the sounds and noises produced by the voice.
The composition features a very peculiar structure away from every know musical theory, to create a poetical-musical opera done not through themes but with the forms of language it-self. In this oscillation and in the deconstruction of the meaning of the words, in the research of pure timbre and resonances, « the sound becomes meaning » and the voice becomes the symbol of the human body it-self and its expressive sign, as the « symbol of language » or the principle of the « languages of things », according with the well known Walter Benjamin theory.