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  • As a singer-songwriter,

  • people often ask me about my influences or, as I like to call them,

  • my sonic lineages.

  • And I could easily tell you

  • that I was shaped by the jazz and hip hop that I grew up with,

  • by the Ethiopian heritage of my ancestors,

  • or by the 1980s pop on my childhood radio stations.

  • But beyond genre, there is another question:

  • how do the sounds we hear every day influence the music that we make?

  • I believe that everyday soundscape

  • can be the most unexpected inspiration for songwriting,

  • and to look at this idea a little bit more closely,

  • I'm going to talk today about three things:

  • nature, language and silence --

  • or rather, the impossibility of true silence.

  • And through this I hope to give you a sense of a world

  • already alive with musical expression,

  • with each of us serving as active participants,

  • whether we know it or not.

  • I'm going to start today with nature, but before we do that,

  • let's quickly listen to this snippet of an opera singer warming up.

  • Here it is.

  • (Singing)

  • (Singing ends)

  • It's beautiful, isn't it?

  • Gotcha!

  • That is actually not the sound of an opera singer warming up.

  • That is the sound of a bird

  • slowed down to a pace

  • that the human ear mistakenly recognizes as its own.

  • It was released as part of Peter Szöke's 1987 Hungarian recording

  • "The Unknown Music of Birds,"

  • where he records many birds and slows down their pitches

  • to reveal what's underneath.

  • Let's listen to the full-speed recording.

  • (Bird singing)

  • Now, let's hear the two of them together

  • so your brain can juxtapose them.

  • (Bird singing at slow then full speed)

  • (Singing ends)

  • It's incredible.

  • Perhaps the techniques of opera singing were inspired by birdsong.

  • As humans, we intuitively understand birds to be our musical teachers.

  • In Ethiopia, birds are considered an integral part

  • of the origin of music itself.

  • The story goes like this:

  • 1,500 years ago, a young man was born in the Empire of Aksum,

  • a major trading center of the ancient world.

  • His name was Yared.

  • When Yared was seven years old his father died,

  • and his mother sent him to go live with an uncle, who was a priest

  • of the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition,

  • one of the oldest churches in the world.

  • Now, this tradition has an enormous amount of scholarship and learning,

  • and Yared had to study and study and study and study,

  • and one day he was studying under a tree,

  • when three birds came to him.

  • One by one, these birds became his teachers.

  • They taught him music -- scales, in fact.

  • And Yared, eventually recognized as Saint Yared,

  • used these scales to compose five volumes of chants and hymns

  • for worship and celebration.

  • And he used these scales to compose and to create

  • an indigenous musical notation system.

  • And these scales evolved into what is known as kiñit,

  • the unique, pentatonic, five-note, modal system that is very much alive

  • and thriving and still evolving in Ethiopia today.

  • Now, I love this story because it's true at multiple levels.

  • Saint Yared was a real, historical figure,

  • and the natural world can be our musical teacher.

  • And we have so many examples of this:

  • the Pygmies of the Congo tune their instruments

  • to the pitches of the birds in the forest around them.

  • Musician and natural soundscape expert Bernie Krause describes

  • how a healthy environment has animals and insects

  • taking up low, medium and high-frequency bands,

  • in exactly the same way as a symphony does.

  • And countless works of music were inspired by bird and forest song.

  • Yes, the natural world can be our cultural teacher.

  • So let's go now to the uniquely human world of language.

  • Every language communicates with pitch to varying degrees,

  • whether it's Mandarin Chinese,

  • where a shift in melodic inflection gives the same phonetic syllable

  • an entirely different meaning,

  • to a language like English,

  • where a raised pitch at the end of a sentence ...

  • (Going up in pitch) implies a question?

  • (Laughter)

  • As an Ethiopian-American woman,

  • I grew up around the language of Amharic, Amhariña.

  • It was my first language, the language of my parents,

  • one of the main languages of Ethiopia.

  • And there are a million reasons to fall in love with this language:

  • its depth of poetics, its double entendres,

  • its wax and gold, its humor,

  • its proverbs that illuminate the wisdom and follies of life.

  • But there's also this melodicism, a musicality built right in.

  • And I find this distilled most clearly

  • in what I like to call emphatic language --

  • language that's meant to highlight or underline

  • or that springs from surprise.

  • Take, for example, the word: "indey."

  • Now, if there are Ethiopians in the audience,

  • they're probably chuckling to themselves,

  • because the word means something like "No!"

  • or "How could he?" or "No, he didn't."

  • It kind of depends on the situation.

  • But when I was a kid, this was my very favorite word,

  • and I think it's because it has a pitch.

  • It has a melody.

  • You can almost see the shape as it springs from someone's mouth.

  • "Indey" -- it dips, and then raises again.

  • And as a musician and composer, when I hear that word,

  • something like this is floating through my mind.

  • (Music and singing "Indey")

  • (Music ends)

  • Or take, for example, the phrase for "It is right" or "It is correct" --

  • "Lickih nehu ... Lickih nehu."

  • It's an affirmation, an agreement.

  • "Lickih nehu."

  • When I hear that phrase,

  • something like this starts rolling through my mind.

  • (Music and singing "Lickih nehu")

  • (Music ends)

  • And in both of those cases, what I did was I took the melody

  • and the phrasing of those words and phrases

  • and I turned them into musical parts to use in these short compositions.

  • And I like to write bass lines,

  • so they both ended up kind of as bass lines.

  • Now, this is based on the work of Jason Moran and others

  • who work intimately with music and language,

  • but it's also something I've had in my head since I was a kid,

  • how musical my parents sounded

  • when they were speaking to each other and to us.

  • It was from them and from Amhariña that I learned

  • that we are awash in musical expression

  • with every word, every sentence that we speak,

  • every word, every sentence that we receive.

  • Perhaps you can hear it in the words I'm speaking even now.

  • Finally, we go to the 1950s United States

  • and the most seminal work of 20th century avant-garde composition:

  • John Cage's "4:33,"

  • written for any instrument or combination of instruments.

  • The musician or musicians are invited to walk onto the stage

  • with a stopwatch and open the score,

  • which was actually purchased by the Museum of Modern Art --

  • the score, that is.

  • And this score has not a single note written

  • and there is not a single note played

  • for four minutes and 33 seconds.

  • And, at once enraging and enrapturing,

  • Cage shows us that even when there are no strings

  • being plucked by fingers or hands hammering piano keys,

  • still there is music, still there is music,

  • still there is music.

  • And what is this music?

  • It was that sneeze in the back.

  • (Laughter)

  • It is the everyday soundscape that arises from the audience themselves:

  • their coughs, their sighs, their rustles, their whispers, their sneezes,

  • the room, the wood of the floors and the walls

  • expanding and contracting, creaking and groaning

  • with the heat and the cold,

  • the pipes clanking and contributing.

  • And controversial though it was, and even controversial though it remains,

  • Cage's point is that there is no such thing as true silence.

  • Even in the most silent environments, we still hear and feel the sound

  • of our own heartbeats.

  • The world is alive with musical expression.

  • We are already immersed.

  • Now, I had my own moment of, let's say, remixing John Cage

  • a couple of months ago

  • when I was standing in front of the stove cooking lentils.

  • And it was late one night and it was time to stir,

  • so I lifted the lid off the cooking pot,

  • and I placed it onto the kitchen counter next to me,

  • and it started to roll back and forth

  • making this sound.

  • (Sound of metal lid clanking against a counter)

  • (Clanking ends)

  • And it stopped me cold.

  • I thought, "What a weird, cool swing that cooking pan lid has."

  • So when the lentils were ready and eaten,

  • I hightailed it to my backyard studio,

  • and I made this.

  • (Music, including the sound of the lid, and singing)

  • (Music ends)

  • Now, John Cage wasn't instructing musicians

  • to mine the soundscape for sonic textures to turn into music.

  • He was saying that on its own,

  • the environment is musically generative,

  • that it is generous, that it is fertile,

  • that we are already immersed.

  • Musician, music researcher, surgeon and human hearing expert Charles Limb

  • is a professor at Johns Hopkins University

  • and he studies music and the brain.

  • And he has a theory

  • that it is possible -- it is possible --

  • that the human auditory system actually evolved to hear music,

  • because it is so much more complex than it needs to be for language alone.

  • And if that's true,

  • it means that we're hard-wired for music,

  • that we can find it anywhere,

  • that there is no such thing as a musical desert,

  • that we are permanently hanging out at the oasis,

  • and that is marvelous.

  • We can add to the soundtrack, but it's already playing.

  • And it doesn't mean don't study music.

  • Study music, trace your sonic lineages and enjoy that exploration.

  • But there is a kind of sonic lineage to which we all belong.

  • So the next time you are seeking percussion inspiration,

  • look no further than your tires, as they roll over the unusual grooves

  • of the freeway,

  • or the top-right burner of your stove

  • and that strange way that it clicks

  • as it is preparing to light.

  • When seeking melodic inspiration,

  • look no further than dawn and dusk avian orchestras

  • or to the natural lilt of emphatic language.

  • We are the audience and we are the composers

  • and we take from these pieces

  • we are given.

  • We make, we make, we make, we make,

  • knowing that when it comes to nature or language or soundscape,

  • there is no end to the inspiration --

  • if we are listening.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

As a singer-songwriter,

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【TED】Meklit Hadero: The unexpected beauty of everyday sounds (The unexpected beauty of everyday sounds | Meklit Hadero)

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    Zenn posted on 2017/05/27
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