Pure joyous noise

Ian McMillan - 28 September 2010

I'm in deepest Wales, in Abergavenny, recording the last few tracks of the new album with my band, the Ian McMillan Orchestra. The band began because of the things I talked about in the previous blog: the idea of sound, of listening, of making something from the pure joyous noise of the human voice. I'd been doing some words and music with my pal the composer Luke Carver Goss and my agent suggested that we start a band and now a few years later we're just putting the finishing touches to the last couple of tracks of the second album.

I've become a little obsessed with music and words these last few years, partly because words and music have been a staple of my Radio 3 show The Verb for a while and partly because it's a combination of art forms that really intrigues me; somehow the musicality of the one brings out the rhythm of the other. I love having to write words that I know will have to fit exactly within a row of notes, and it's great speaking your words with music; it makes you feel like a proper bard, or a troubadour. Even in some ways a singer songwriter. Except I don't sing; although in some places I do. Almost.

But where does that leave those ideas I was talking about last time? The overheard language, the found sound, the language that I've grown up with? Well, I'm going home tonight, back to my linguistic wellspring, and I'll look again at that poem I've been thinking about, the one trying to capture a Friday morning in Wombwell, but I wonder if it would sound better with music? Could I make it a bonus track on the album, or is it the start of something longer, an investigation of how the words and music amplify and complement each other?

It's hard to tell. The investigation of sound goes on. Time to go and record another track!


Very interesting to think of the difference between words and music created together (the exact fit you write about) and poetry read with music as a backing - which, to my ear, never really seems to work. Do you know instances of a poet's reading that's enhanced by music being played in the background?

I've been lucky recently to be working with young children along with a percussionist. Certainly children respond to the rhythmic aspect of music when choosing and using words - and when they get their hands on something to shake, rattle or bang they begin to realise how sounds need to be organised in order to sound good: a great basis for their working with words.

Thank goodness someone else has mentioned about poetry being read with music as a backing - I have not found one that I appreciate so far, but I have heard some readings with natural sounds in the background, like the sound of the sea or wind that worked for me.

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Glossary term

Free Verse

Poetry that does not use regular metre or fixed forms.

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