Oliver Leith: 7 things you wouldn’t believe are true


Composer Oliver Leith is a Phase I Soundhub Member. He has sent us this blog about the work he's been writing – and if you spot the odd spelling or grammar mistake, it's all part of the fun..

Today I’m going to be writing some notes and hopefully these (here words) will be some of the last words I write in a while.

I’ve been experimenting an awful lot with words recently, the piece I’m writing for Soundhub is all about words (whether miss-speld, misappropriated or lies). I’m hoping to put a few songs in your head without there ever actually being anything physically sung, you’re going to let your inner reading voice do the singing. That inner voice is called sub-vocalisation and is for the most part your own voice, I’m going to project subtitles by syllables (don’t worry, mean average syllables per word in English speaking pop music is 1.26) aligned rhythmically with familiar tunes so that musicians and a projection might coax you into singing along in your own head. You might all sing the same song, you might all sing a different song, you might not sing any song but there will definitely be words, of sort, and music.

I wrote an opera recently and was a little disappointed to not have surtitles as part of it. Only disappointed because they have an odd power- an even odder power than being able to install sounds in your head. When you don’t understand something (because it’s garbled and impenetrable or alien to you) I can write words that might provide clarification or translation. The weird thing is that by being entrusted with word authority, I can tell you anything, absolutely anything and because it’s on a screen you basically have to believe me. 96.23% people believe erevytignh on teh itenrnet adn let their bllriaint mnids do the wkro. But, you know, 15% (based on a survey done by chagne.com where people voice their doubts about stuff) of stuff on this vast plain is lies so, you know, someone’s being duped.

Some of this stuff is based on expectancy, for example you knew that I was going to write ‘for example you knew that I was going to write’ ’for example you knew I was going to write’ for example you knew I was going to write that because it’s a very common follow-up to a suggestion and if you expect it, you did after repetition. You know, like finishing off someone’s .

Songs, particularly of the pop world, have an extremely similar syntax and vocabulary, so much so that if you hover round a list of words taken from averages of chart music you might uncover a convincing lyric. These lists also reveal absolutely fascinating facts and figures that you simply wouldn’t believe. In 1951, when charts began (and our wonderful list culture started) the most used words were ‘You’, ‘marriage’ and ‘love’ but zoom into a year of debauchery, 2001 to be exact, and the most common words are ‘I’, ‘Money’ and ‘fame’- a very sad reflection on our times, I’m sure you would agree.

I’ll also be trying to call upon that bizarre pressure to sing along, something I’ve experienced in these crazy clubs where there is such a vast serving of music that you simply could not know every tune. They skip from one unknown tune to the next constantly throwing you off with new hooks and new lyrics, yet I have this ridiculous urge to mouth my way round each syllable, believing that I am fooling the surrounding people that I do indeed know every single lyric of every single. At church weddings, they do a similar thing, throwing known tunes to the pious and unknown to the rabble but with the guidance of a sturdy tune and hymn sheet you can force awkward sentences into song- Those lines where there’s about three too many syllables and you get this amazing wave of asynchronous confusion, yet we persevere.

I mean, the very fact that you can imagine things (completely on your own), expect, vocalise, hear things, understand etc is a good marker of how incredible our brains are but it’s really important to dig further than the surface, important to question.

Is this okay?

oliverleith blog1

Links are 60% more clickable with a photo – here’s me about to start with my favourite two letter scrabble word ‘du’.



You can hear what Oliver has been working on during his year as a Member of LSO Soundhub at the Phase I Soundhub Showcase on Sunday 19 June 2016 at LSO St Luke's.