Words and Rhythm have a really close relationship since ancient times when poets sang the epic tales in iambic pentameters, both to better remember and more easily sing them. Words contain rhythm. We produce rhythms every time we talk, although we do not realize. This activity guides participants to pay attention to the rhythm underpinning their words and uses their rhythm as building blocks for a group composition. Such rhythms will be explored, varied and modulated in order to build polyrhythms and polyphonic melodies.
Often participants do not perceive themselves as capable of improvisation, simply because they are not used to it. This perception can become in itself an obstacle.
The exercise Words&Rhythm is designed in such a way to skip the problem, initiating people into a creative process without them even realizing it. The process aims to guide their way of listening to recognize the responses that their body and mind produces naturally to music and then express them through the voice.
In fact when listening, our minds and bodies always respond to music, through resonance. We can see images in our imagination. We tap our feet on the floor. Far memories are awoken. I believe that such personal responses are a mirror to our unique life experiences, the root of our own voice. The goal of this exercise is to express and amplify such responses.
Each individual is guided to use his or her own unique toolbox (the musical skills and techniques that each individual already possesses) to give voice to what their bodies and minds already sing.
I believe that such activity can contribute to a more musical society: one where people can communicate more personally and authentically because tuned to their bodies and their singular experiences.
Before starting the improvisation work, the body first needs to be warmed up through stretching and dancing.
MATERIALS NECESSARY TO CARRY OUT THE ACTIVITY
A pen and a letter-size paper for each participant
Music player with three suggestive songs of different character
Optional: loop pedal, microphone and speaker
Participants gathers in groups of 4 (three singers and a witness alternating roles);
The process of creation begins with a free-writing exercise:Three songs of different and contrasting characters are played in succession (1–2 min for each). While listening to the music participants are asked to produce three brief texts in response to each of the songs. Each participant is encouraged to use his or her own mother tongue. The texts will provide the rhythmic materials for the group composition;
NOTE: It has been chosen this free writing activity instead of, for instance, simply picking up words from a text to introduce participants right away to a process of creation as response. In fact, responding to sound, responding to the voice of the other is one of the guiding principles of this activity.
First Phase: Just the Rhythm
Each participant will choose 4 words from their text. By repeating one word after the other in a loop, they will make apparent the rhythmic pattern underpinning the words; order of the words, speed of execution, pauses can be modified to explore different possibilities;
The first singer of each group repeats his or her words in a rhythmic Phrase and loops it. The phrase should be repeated with ease, leaving appropriate pauses for breathing and maintaining the loop without variations;
The second singer will join in, superimposing their words on top of the first singer, finding a way of interlocking them. The second singer starts his or her phrase simultaneously with the first singer (phasing phrases could be explored in variation of the activity);
The third singer will join adding a third layer in the same way. The result is a poly-rhythmic pattern;
The fourth participant works as a witness of the process, who can also record the result on a cellphone to keep record of it. When the process is completed, the participants switch roles and start from the beginning;
Second Phase: Melodies
The first singer will start from the beginning, this time adding tones to the words;
The rhythmic phrase becomes a melodic phrase, repeated in loop. If the singer is inexperienced, is invited to sing the rhythm in a single tone. For some magical reasons, after a couple of repetitions, some modulation in the tone will naturally appear, as if a melody were suggested by the rhythm of the words itself;
NOTE: Even when the singer is a proficient improviser, the first layer should be purposefully easy, so to provide a balanced mix of support and inspiration for the second singer;
The second singer, drawing inspiration by listening to the first, will produce a second voice that grafts onto it. The phrase of the second singer starts at the same time as the one of the first singer. If the singer finds it challenging to articulate his or her phrase, the leader can suggest a pitch that the singer can use to sing the phrase. By reproducing the words in that tone, usually a melody will be shaped by the relationship with the one of the first singer;
The third participant is free to use his or her words more freely in a solo that enfolds on top of the basic loop. The third singer is also the conductor of the performance. He or she can raise or lower the volume of the other singers and close down the improvisation;
The form of the exercise is close, as the phrases provide a clear structure to the composition. The performance could be enriched with a middle section of free and more disorganized improvisation on the words to then resume the original pattern;
It is possible also to extrapolate just the rhythms of the picked words and transform it with other syllables;
A really entertaining tool that can be employed in the exercise is the loop pedal. The loop would allow each participant to record their own voice instead of repeating it continuously.
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