Project 2 with Sound and Words: "For Thine Is"


            For this project I decided to create a sound environment for part of my favorite poem, The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot. I found a prerecorded reading which I liked and used that as a jumping-off point, though I changed the pacing and pauses between lines to create a dialogue between the speaker and his environment. The poem itself paints an incredibly vivid image of a bleak apocalypse as the last fragments of humanity break down into nothingness, and is most famous for its final lines:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

            I chose to focus on this sequence and the lines which directly precede it. The increasingly disjointed lines of the poem give way to a curious, almost nursery rhyme-like stanza. I interpreted this ending to be a reversion to childhood instinct, so I mimicked the rhythm of the speaker with a children’s xylophone effect. The innocence of the xylophone becomes much more mocking when it is used to echo to the darkness of the actual words being spoken. The roughness of the xylophone early in the poem was initially an error, but one that I ended up using, as it demonstrated the settling of human error into a mechanical pattern.

            The other primary noise I used was a clock ticking, to suggest the human heartbeat. Over the course of the piece, the ticking becomes more and more irregular, slowing down or speeding up before cutting out together at the end. The disorienting crescendo of sound before the final line uses these clock elements as well as the innocent xylophone and garbled music, with moments of recognition. The defamiliarization with music was inspired by the sense of distance and defamiliarization created by the "Symphony for a Man Alone" that we listened to in class. The other musical element I used during this final segment was of the children’s song “Daisy Bell” which I chose to parallel to the computer HAL 9000’s shutdown in Isaac Asimov’s 2001: A Space Odyssen, which is, again, a reversion to childhood rhymes that takes on new and dark significance in the face of oblivion.


If you are interested, you can find the full text of the poem here. I'd highly recommend reading it.