Part 3: Harmony

In the Transcribing Speech section above, I demonstrated how, at the end of “3 - Dave Chappelle,” I maintained the speech rhythms of the original material but expanded the single vocal line into a full harmonic texture. While, in itself, speech already has a melodic contour and a pattern of rhythmic emphasis, it does not suggest harmonies of any kind. Therefore, in order to write contrapuntal or harmonic textures for the string quartet (a medium that excels at both), I found it necessary to abstract harmonies from the speech melodies.

One way I did this was to divide up the speech melody by range so that, for example, the cello would play everything at the bottom quarter of the comic’s range, the first violin would play everything at the top quarter of the comic’s range, and so on. Another method was to take two successive pitches from the source, make them simultaneous, and then extrapolate other pitches from their interaction. A particularly good example of these techniques is “19 - Richard Pryor,” in which the speech melody is almost completely submerged underneath a texture of sustained and subtly shifting harmonies.