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Making Music from the Sound of Speech

Austin's JoySpeak Project brings light from conquered darkness.
Wayne Alan Brenner, 2:55pm, Tue. Dec. 18, 2012
Lise' Creed is up to something.

Lise' Creed is hoovering up the joy in the world – kind of like the Grinch, grabbing Cindy Lou Who's tree, remember? – but she's doing what Dr. Seuss' green meanie only lied about doing: She's making it even better and then returning it to the world for the benefit of all.

Let's be specific, though. Creed's not some mad scientist with a bizarre joy-sucking apparatus who's going from party to party and mining the veins of good-time shenanigans. No, she's a woman with a software program that translates human speech into music – and musical notation.
More to the point: She's a woman with a software program … and a mission.

The software's called JoySpeak.

"I was at home one night," says Creed. "I was a little … inebriated, let's say? So I was feeling pretty good. And I was talking to myself, just having a regular one-person conversation. And I started paying attention to the sound of my voice, and I thought, "I like the way that sounds." And the next morning, I woke up and I thought, 'OK, that's what I want to do: I want to make music out of happy.' And I was dating a software engineer at the time, and he was like, 'Well, we could take human speech and make it into music…' And so he developed some software that did. It pulls out the tones and pitches and maps it to sheet music. The software can't quite pick up all the in-between notes, so it comes out sounding much different than you'd think it sounds like, but it still has an awful lot of interesting bits and pieces that can be pulled from each voice – to inspire a bigger musical piece. And, hopefully, a very happy one."

So is that the mission?
Making happy music from happy speech?

"There's just so much ugly going on in the world right now," says Creed. "Everybody's scared, everybody's unhappy – about something – or complaining about something. And the one thing we all have is music, which grabs you on a visceral level. And I want to take the raw feeling of joy and turn it directly into music. So I'm working on setting up a bunch of interviews, to get a range of different voices."

Answer: No, that's not the mission.

The mission is – well, listen: There's that old joke about a man who's searching the ground around a streetlight one night. And a friend comes up and asks what's the haps. "Well, I lost my wallet," says the man. "Are you sure you lost it around here?" says the friend. "Oh, no, I'm pretty sure I lost it on the other corner," says the man, pointing into the shadowed city, "but the light's so much better here."

Lise' Creed, on the other hand, is looking for her sources of joy in the darkness.
That's the mission.

"I'm focusing on people with terminal illness," says Creed. "People that have such a hardship and yet they can still appreciate the little happy things in life. So, people who are cancer patients – and cancer survivors. Especially children – because their voices are so musical to begin with. I'm looking into charity organizations, seeing if I can find people who'd be interested in participating in the project, people who want to have their stories recorded. Bryan Roberts [local improviser and sketch comic] – Lubu – is gonna be my first interview. He – well, the last I heard, he was having issues with Humana, and he's still waiting on a transplant. He needs two lungs, two good, working lungs. And anybody that knows him, anybody that's seen him perform, knows that voice. That voice is unique, and it's the most highly imitated voice outside of mainstream celebrities: I don't know anybody who's ever met Lubu who didn't do their impression of him immediately thereafter. So I wanna get him in this."

And then the software renders the interview into music and musical notation – and?

"And I send the most interesting musical phrases to a composer friend of mine in Rhode Island," says Creed, "and he'll base an entire composition on them. Eventually, a whole series of compositions."

For, like, an album or something?

"I'll be videotaping all the interviews, too," says Creed. "My ultimate vision of an artistic piece is a corridor lined with pictures and videos of everybody involved, with bits of the interviews playing, with the music generated from those interviews playing while you go through. Ideally, I'd have it structured so the videos would synch with the music as you're going through."

We'll be looking forward to it.

In the meantime, you can check the progress on this JoySpeak page that Creed's set up on Facebook.

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