Setting Poetry to Electronic Music: Collaborating with Syke

Syke Dolero and Acid42

The title of the poem is Pag-ibig Na Makapangyarihan, which literally translates to “Love So Powerful.” This was a spoken word piece originally performed and written by Filipino hiphop emcee and poet Syke Dolero, known for his machine-gun flow. I ended up composing some jazzy world music around his poetry.

This was a collaboration done with him back in 2006 when we were both heavily using the social networking site Multiply. He said something like “Let’s make a spoken word ethnotronica track.”  I said: “Game!” So he sent me a file of him reciting some of his poetry live at a poetry reading. I sat down and crafted some music to fit it. The track was done in one fell swoop, and took roughly 4 to 5 hours. And he liked the result.

Read about the challenges of setting pre-recorded poetry to music after the jump.

The challenges of setting pre-recorded spoken word performances to music: 

  1. You have no control over the quality of the recording. Much like doing a remix, you are at the mercy of the recording quality of the source material.
  2. There is usually only a hint of rhythm on the performer’s part. It’s up to you to cut and slice the audio so that there are pauses that match your music.
  3. Spoken word performers tend to speak fast when not performing to a beat. Especially in a live setting — it’s the adrenaline of performing before a live audience. Editing is necessary to slow it down and space it out.
  4. When spacing out the original audio, the silent gaps will need to be filled by your music, or some combination of music and sound design/sound effects. Otherwise it may be too obvious that the audio was cut apart.
  5. You need to EQ your music to leave sonic “space” for the human voice to be heard. This means cutting out mid frequencies from your track. If your music is full of midrange tones, you won’t hear the poet above the competing frequencies. (This is something I was not able to do well with the track above.)
  6. You have to compose music that matches the vibe of the poet’s performance. It’s gotta work well together or it’ll sound more like a boring radio ad.


3 thoughts on “Setting Poetry to Electronic Music: Collaborating with Syke

  1. Cool idea heres something i came up with!!!!!
    CDR + Kim Acrylic are a self-produced Electro duo….With poetic, spoken word, and electro, combined…
    With Kim acrylic based in Seattle, and CDR based in Northampton this was not an easy collab! but after passing files back and forward Magic happened! The Techno Eyes Ep….

    “*****5stars… Elegant, cool electronica, Dark, twisty lyrics with bright electronic synth and beats. Reminds me of that time between the end of an epic night out and coming of the dawn, wondering through endless streets, looking for somewhere open to wait until the new day.” Andrew Montague..

    “*****5stars…Excellent..Really enjoyed all the tracks… A new favourite!” IanTechPSR.

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