Cellar Song For Five Computer Voices

Cellar Song For Five Computer Voices (2015)
Medium: Installation, shell script running on a computer.
Cellar Song For Five Computer Voices — video still (2015)
Medium: Installation, shell script running on a computer.
Emmett Williams, Cellar Song for Five Voices, c. 1960.
15:37 min. long recording of script's performance.

Shell script running on a computer, generating and simultaneously performing Cellar Song For Five Voices (c. 1960) by Emmett Williams. Installation was part of a performance of a Fluxus opera — Grupa ETC: Emmett Williams Remix during Mikrofestiwal in Wrocław (2015).

Cellar Song For Five Voices is a permutation poem, that reorders five phrases (each having a voice attached to it — meant to be performed by one of the five speakers) into each possible combination. The number of combinations and thus lines of the poem is 120 — the factorial of 5. When only listening to the piece, it quickly becomes difficult to follow when a new line begins. The perception of the structure of the sentences is further complicated by the fact that each speaker has individual vocal qualities.

In most interpretations of the piece, the performers are prompted to impose slightly different intonations, pacings and other features of speech onto their phrase depending upon where it appears within the full line. In Ratajski's installation, however, the same computer procedure (a simple shell script running on a computer) generates the poem line by line and performs it in real time using speech synthesis. The final effect is somewhat monotonous and dehumanized in a way that deviates from the canonical performances of the piece but remains faithful to its mathematical core structure.

Excerpt from the 15:37 min. long recording of the script's performance was featured in Musiq'3 (Belgian public-service radio station centred on classical music) show Autour de Babel #327 Hailuoto Blue with Anne Lepère.