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“The sounds as they appear to you are not only different from those that are really present, but they sometimes behave so strangely, as to seem quite impossible.” These are the words from a famous demonstration by psychologist Diana Deutsch*, which repeats the phrase, “sometimes behave so strangely” over and over again until it indeed starts to behave strangely. After hearing it a few times in isolation, this speech phrase magically becomes a melody, and one can never again hear it the same way. In fact, utterances in our daily lives seem to possess some “musical” qualities, a certain “melody of speech” characterized by unique intonations, rhythms, timbres, and moods.
Singing the Words is a research project that attempts to uncover the relationship (or lack thereof) between the musical melody and the “speech melody” (prosody) through the paradigms of musicology, psycholinguistics, and neuroscience. Where exactly does the boundary lie? With how much confidence can we say that prosody is the linguistic equivalent of the musical melody? Are they, in fact, sufficiently associated at the biological level as to produce any synergistic therapeutic effects? These are some of the main questions addressed in the project.
This project was completed in 2012 as a Junior Independent Project at Princeton University, under the guidance of Professor Kofi Agawu.


*To see the demonstration mentioned above, please visit this link.


Take 2

During my research, I was further intrigued by the possibility of using speech as an inspiration and an ingredient for musical composition. Below are some of my initial attempts at this idea, using a snippet from the reading of Rumpelstiltskin, a Grimm fairy tale.

First, I extract (roughly and by ear) the pitch sequence displayed by the speech segment and simply play it on the piano. Then, I reinterpret this "melody" into something more musical - a jazz solo piano improv, and a flute-violin-piano trio.

Here is the original speech segment from Rumpelstiltskin (click here if you wish to hear the full story):


Here is the melody extracted from the speech, played on the piano:


Here is the jazz solo piano improv version:


And here is the flute-violin-piano trio version: