On Monday the composer Orlando Gough joined us to teach us his piece Olympic Hopefuls. This could be called a soundscape of human noises, and involves our unaccompanied singing of a text mostly consisting of nonsense syllables, with occasional strings of real (English) words that nevertheless are not included in any kind of grammatical sentence structure.
home bam bee put ho n kit chi koo aI suppose you could call the piece an a cappella tone poem.
dut sko mee ney har do vee dey
… four five ring fence post box ticking
The score contains frequent musical or choreographic directions to the singers: ‘keen, breathy’, ‘slurred, out to lunch’, ‘tribal’, ‘hit chest (hard)’, ‘knackered, panting’, ‘deeply charismatic’ and many others. A paralinguistic feast.
Helpfully, the composer has provided a key to interpreting the spellings of the nonsense syllables. As you can see, the repertoire of vowels comprises just these nine: æ e ɪ əʊ ʌ aɪ ə ɑː eɪ. Schwa is always difficult to respell. I assume that the singers all know that hookah is ˈhʊkə. In interpreting the instruction “single consonant: add schwar” I think the composer means ə, not an AmE-style ɚ. We’ve just got to live with the fact that where the composer writes har most of the choir pronounce hɑː, as he does himself, but that the few choir members who are Scottish or American inevitably go for hɑːr.
I started off somewhat sceptical about this composition. But as we practised it I grew convinced that it will make an impressive, if unusual, item in the concert.
Orlando’s surname, Gough, is pronounced ɡɒf and is of Celtic origin. In some cases it represents Scottish Gaelic gobha, Cornish or Breton goff, ‘smith’. In other cases it derives from the Welsh goch ɡoːχ, the soft-mutated form of coch ‘red’.