BABEL, for string quartet 

2019 (rev), 2015premiered by the Daedalus Quartet at Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania

BABEL was my PhD dissertation composition, completed in 2015 and significantly revised in 2019. It is an homage to language through music: each of the five movements is based on a different language or linguistic feature. Some movements were inspired by the meaning of a text or poem, while others are based exclusively on the acoustic properties of speech. While composing this piece, I made frequent use of spectral analysis software to analyze the minute details of the timbres and rhythms of speech, and “zoom in” on interesting acoustic features of language. I then orchestrated these features through the string quartet in many different ways. This piece would not have been possible without the extensive help and technical support from my phonologist brother, Leandro Bolaños.

I. Spanish: this movement is a love song, based on a female and a male reading the poem “Amo, Amas” by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. The final section is a fusion of the female and male voices.

II. Nuxálk: an endangered language spoken in British Columbia. Nuxalk contains extreme consonant clusters (strings of consonants without vowels in between). I analyzed these consonant clusters, extracting certain frequency ranges, and orchestrated them in the quartet.

III. English + Chinantecan: Whispering in English (in the violins and viola) is paired with a cello melody modeled on a Mexican whistling language used to communicate across vast distances.

IV. Greenlandic: this movement is based on readings of a poem by Greenlandic poet Jessie Kleemann. Extremely short linguistic gestures (ie: the micro-timing between certain vowels and consonants) are proportionally expanded and orchestrated at the phrase level.

V. Vowel Harmony: this is the process by which one vowel becomes similar to another vowel elsewhere in a word or phrase. This movement is based on harmonies from the previous four movements that have been spectrally distorted to resemble other harmonies.
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