newly tonal consonants

Hello fellow poemophoners.

This is Ethan…being new to wordpress I hope all of this ends up in the right place.

I wanted to post a few bits of directional possibilities that I have been exploring with my Model 5  poemophone.

This past winter I was working on a piece for choir that is acting as a leaping off point for some vocal/poemophone performance ideas.

One peculiar thing that I really like about the poemophone is that it gives tonality to vocal sounds that generally don’t have tonality.  There are a number of vocal sounds that don’t vibrate the vocal cords and instead are constituted solely from mouth-shape and breath.   By vocalizing these consonants and simultaneously thumbing the corresponding key on the poemophone the voice merges with instrument, and strangely the toneless consonants become toned.  I have made some simple recordings of this interaction between my own voice and my poemophone, the Model 5.

The first set uses longer sustained consonants…

Ssss      Hhhh      Ffff

The second uses shorter staccato consonants…

K      T      J

I am brainstorming ways that we could create a group performance using these consonants as raw material.  For instance all of us layering our voices by vocalizing Sssss and simultaneously intoning the corresponding letter on our individual instruments would create a richly layered density of sound material.  We could shift between consonants and create changes, exchanges, etc.

Individual microphones for each of our voices and amplification for each of our poemophones would be great if possible.

This is just a beginning – looking forward to meeting you all and discussing these pieces in person.


  1. This is Mary. I liked reading this and am interested to see what we come up with. Our endeavor (I am working with my two kids) focuses on profanity. All of those letters that you love are getting a good work out on our Poemophone as at least one of those letters appears in most of our profane words. (Poor J though, it does not get rotation.)

  2. Thanks Mary. The profanity approach sounds like a lot of fun. Perhaps there is an underlying connection between the toneless consonant and the profane. As for J, the only thing that comes to mind is Jackass, which is not really such a bad word these days.

  3. Ah, yes. Jackass. I am pretty sure my kids think jerk is more profane than jackass. I have considered the toneless consonant. I am pretty sure f and ck and t all have a sustain that make them fun to say in certain combinations. It seems like most favorite cuss words contain double consonants in them. We are working with that idea as it relates to emphasis. The kids, (Hank, who is 9, and May, who is 5) have decided that people like profanity because it creates quick, recognizable emphasis and that profanity, mostly, means little. I hope to post some videos as soon as I can figure out how to use some good free video editor.

    I plan to play your recordings to Hank and May tomorrow to start off our sessions.

  4. Hi Ethan — Very inspired by your tonal consonants idea. We tried them out with BLUEBIRD last night. Can’t wait to perform with MODEL 5, et al. — P&L

  5. Ethan, these are beautiful little pieces! I can begin to imagine what the group sounds might be – wow! Lauri and I originally performed a series of birdcall mnemonics with one of my instruments that had a similar kind of sound structure – this makes me think that perhaps there could be a call and response between the instruments.

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