New Music, New Vocality: The Music-Text Continuum in the Second Half of the XX Century

Felipe Rodrigues Ferreira Perez

Arts Institute of the São Paulo State University, Brazil


Text and music have existed together in the Western World at least since Ancient Greece, as seen in the writings of Plato and Aristotle or Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and so has the theorization about their relations. Plato’s theory of mimesis and St. Augustine’s theory of the prevalence of text (in relation to “the melody”) endured in Western vocal music through its history at least until the late XIX century. Throughout this period, one can perceive the fact that Text and Voice (albeit combined in song, polyphony and opera, among others) have been treated as different entities, and the question of how to put words to music developed in the direction of how to adequate one to the other.

This changes radically, beginning in the early XX century, with the innovations of Futurism, Concrete Poetry, Sound Poetry, new vocal techniques and new ways to approach vocality, such as Sprechstimme, vocalizations, whisper-singing, and further on with Electronic Music, nonsense texts, and other new ways of working with voice and text, culminating in the second half of the century.

Just  as the 1950s saw the erosion of the previous musical system of tonality and of the traditional musical forms, it also brings about an erosion of the traditional relationship between music and text in vocal works. This is where the main question of this article comes to light.

Responding to the crisis in musical language, composers and performers proposed a great number of answers such as serialism, the theory of musical time unity, polarizations, textural composing, spectralism, minimalism, and so on. Accompanying these radical changes in the way of composing and making music, they continued using text, but in different ways.

What we propose in this article is an approach to contemporary vocal music with text, through the application of a sound-text continuum inside the unity of the voice, where the transition between the extremes of this continuum works as a structural way of creating musical contrast and variation, present in the works of Berio, Nono, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Aperghis and others. The conceptualization of this method is created basing ourselves in the concepts of orality/vocality and performance, proposed by Paul Zumthor, the concepts of vocality, unity of the vocalic and “de-vocalization” proposed by Adriana Cavarero, and the concept of the grain of the voice, proposed by Roland Barthes.

Keywords: Vocal Music, Contemporary Music, Voice


Felipe Rodrigues Ferreira Perez. Graduated in Social Sciences from University of São Paulo (USP) in 2015 and is currently a graduation student in Electroacoustic Composition, under Flo Menezes, at the Arts Institute of São Paulo State University (UNESP). Currently develops a research, funded by FAPESP, about the relationship between text and music in contemporary vocal compositions, under the supervision of Dr. Fabio Miguel. Since 2019 is a founding member of the vocal ensemble SabIÁ Coro, acting as a performer, composer and administrative vice-president. Also, since 2019, is a member GeppeVozIa (Practice and Research Group about Voice at the Arts Institute), where he took part in the group research about youth choir repertoire. As a performer, acts since 2010 as guitarist, singer and composer in the fields of popular and classical music, specializing – as a composer – on vocal electronic music and choir/voice music.