I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips


SKU: 200602 Category: Tags: ,


instrumentation: voice, any range (with live, computer-generated pitch material)
date: 2006
duration: 4’30
details: 6 pages, including performance instructions; A3 landscape. Max/Msp technical assistant: Brett Masteller. (Purchased copies include Max/MSP performance patch—a download link to a .zip file is generated on checkout.)
texts: Christian Bök (“Voile,” from Eunoia), Arthur Rimbaud (“Voyelles”), and an anonymous Rimbaud translation (“Vowels”).

Program Note

I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips (2003–06) emerges from three texts:  Arthur Rimbaud’s Voyelles, a rich but strange synesthetic and vaguely anthropomorphic exploration of the five written French vowels; Christian Bök’s Voile, a homophonic translation of the Rimbaud in which the sounds of the words, rather than their semantic meanings, are translated from French into English (published as a supplementary chapter from the astonishing book Eunoia, itself a univocal lipogram in which each of five chapters is limited to a single vowel); and a strange (and unattributed) English translation of the Rimbaud (Vowels) I happened to stumble across on the internet.

The piece confronts the notion of translation and all of the various ruptures and lacunae implicit in the process of transferring meaning between (and within) languages. It is about fragmentation, about the decoupling of sound from meaning, about a linguistic “play” moving between sound, meaning, syntax, and language through various fissures and explosions and leaps and obstacles. The three texts run simultaneously throughout the work, and the cross-cutting between these linguistic strata sometimes probes meaning (jumping between languages through words with the same meaning/implication but clearly differing phonemic content), sometimes sound (through words with similar sonic content but different meaning), and sometimes both (between French-English cognates). Crucially, with the exception of one rather brief passage, all of this is done with an effort towards ensuring that the texts never devolve to the point of mere sound, mere phonemes—despite the extensive fragmentation (of words, of text, of meaning), their identity as words and as language remains more or less intact.

In the end, the piece is about a foregrounding of the process of translation rather than the result of that process. It addresses the way in which meaning and content are transferred and embedded and examines the phonetic aspect of that transference and embedding. It explores the way in which we understand meaning and the ways in which meaning can be inferred even through the absence of stable, codified grammar, syntax, and even words. The piece explores the instability of word boundaries, using common morphemes and phonemes to shift between languages and modes of syntax to undermine and destabilize the intricacies of linguistic codes.

Finally, it is worth noting the rather unconventional performance technique employed in the work. The piece can be performed by a solo singer of any voice part. The pitch material of the work is generated live, in real time—the singer matches the pitch (occasionally deviating from this pitch in a variety of ways) of a constant computer-generated glissando heard only by the performer via headphones. The singer is able to enter their vocal range into the computer, and, using a constantly shifting pair of tessitura limits, the computer supplies the glissando, its pitches not only newly generated from performer to performer but also from performance to performance. The score indicates all metrical, rhythmic, and textual data, as well as all information about articulation, dynamics, performance techniques, ornamentation, etc. The only parameter not explicitly indicated in the score is pitch. It is worth noting, as well, that the initial proportional rhythmic relationships were the result of direct transcriptions of my own readings of the three texts (though the resulting rhythms are distorted through various methods in their actual appearances in the work).

Sincere thanks are due to Brett Masteller, who constructed the Max/Msp patch and served as an invaluable technical assistant, and to Carl Rosman and Daryl Buckley, who made finishing the piece possible. As he has kindly allowed me to pilfer multiple piece titles in addition to the text in this work, the piece is dedicated to Christian Bök with deepest respect, gratitude, bemusement, befuddlement, enthusiasm, and amazement.


Recorded for NEOS.



“Determinate Action/Indeterminate Sound: Tablature and chance in several recent works.” Facets of the Second Modernity. New Music and Aesthetics in the 21st Century, Volume 6. Mahnkopf, Schurig and Cox, eds. Wolke Verlag, June 2008.


Carl Rosman, European premiere, Warsaw Autumn Festival, 2007.



An interview with Andrew Watts about I, purples, … for his ‘Language Lost’ class at the University of California at Santa Barbara, filmed 15 April 2020.

Tyler Boque, voice (Alinéa ensemble). Video recording for the Everything But The Kitchen Sink Zoom Summer Festival. Broadcast July 17, 2020. 

Adam Zahller, voice (113 Collective), Studio Z, St Paul, Minnesota, USA. June 1, 2018. 

Nina Dante, voice. Indexical (joint recital with Jaap Blonk), Santa Cruz, USA. March 31, 2018.

Frank Wörner, voice (ExVoCo). tonArt 2018, Esslingen, Germany. February 25, 2018.

Frank Wörner, voice (ExVoCo). Klangraum 2017, Kunstraum Filderstrasse, Stuttgart, Germany. December 9, 2017.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice. Cortona Sessions, Cortona, Italy. July 3, 2017.

Nina Dante, voice (Fonema Consort). Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall, Northwestern University, Evanston, USA. May 17, 2017.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice (loadbang). Center for New Music, San Francisco. April 11, 2017.

Viola Yip, voice. Instrumentality/Vocality Conference, University of Huddersfield. January 14, 2017.

Angela Postweiler, soprano. 19th Festival der projektgruppe neue musik bremen, Schwankhalle, Bremen, Germany, November 27, 2016.

Fonema Consort (Nina Dante, voice), Ear Taxi Festival, Chicago, October 8, 2016.

Adam Zahller, voice. Riverboat, Minneapolis, MN. May 27, 2016.

Adam Zahller, voice. Gamut Gallery, Minneapolis, MN. May 21, 2016.

Juliane Harberg, mezzo-soprano (forma Leipzig), Tektonik 3, Alte Stadtbibliothek Leipzig, Germany, May 6, 2015.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice. 12 Nights concert series, Harold Golen Gallery, Miami, FL, April 21, 2015.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice. Dark Music Days, Iceland.  January 31, 2015.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice. Tectonics Festival, Issue Project Room, New York, NY.  May 25, 2014.

Leo Birtwhistle, voice. Rymer Auditorium, University of York, UK.  May 23, 2014.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice. Resonant Bodies Festival, Brooklyn, NY.  September 7, 2013.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice. Framingham State University, Massachusetts. April 29, 2013.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice. OpenSound, Boston. April 27, 2013.

Carl Rosman, voice. University of Huddersfield. April 15, 2013.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice. Southern Illinois University. April 5, 2013.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice.  Roulette, Brooklyn, New York.  January 24, 2013.

Jeffrey Gavett, voice. Greenwich House, New York, USA. November 10, 2011. 

Natacha Diels, voice.  The Wulf, Los Angeles, USA.  May 1, 2011.

Jeff Gavett, voice, New York, USA.  September 24, 2010.

MusikFabrik (Carl Rosman, voice).  Alter Wartesaal, Cologne, Germany.  February 18, 2010.    

ELISION (Carl Rosman, voice).  Kings Place.  London, UK.  November 2, 2009.    

Philipp Blume, voice.  University of Illinois.  Urbana, Illinois, USA.  January 30, 2009.

Portrait Concert, ELISION Ensemble. ABC Ferry Road Studios, Brisbane, Australia.  July 27, 2008.  Broadcast on ABC Classic FM. Carl Rosman, voice

ELISION (Carl Rosman, voice).  Warsaw Autumn Festival.  Frederic Chopin Academy of Music.  Warsaw, Poland.  September 22, 2007.

ELISION (Carl Rosman, voice).  Australian National Academy of Music, South Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, Australia.  May 24, 2007.

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