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Geekspeak with Pamela Z

Pamela Z, a composer and media artist, is known for her experimental approach to sound and music composition that entails sampling, looping, and signal processing. She often combines this in real time performance with her own live vocal processing, creating hauntingly complex and mesmerizing works of music and sound art.

Her piece Geekspeak contains audio interviews about the meaning of being a geek. These interviews are strategically composed through loops, layers, and fragments in a way that embodies the idea of geekiness. She begins with a series of repeated phrases, looped and overlaid in a dense fashion; the phrases “bit bot byte”, “operating system,” and “originally written as 32-bit able” are played over and over in a dizzying cascade.

It’s then suddenly interrupted with another phrase: “—the basic simple definition of a geek—“ and then the piece is interrupted again before sentence is finished. Another phrase follows “I don’t know how to articulate it really but” and then is interrupted again, this time with a very repetitious fragment of the word “I.” Her sampling of the word “I” is clever, as it captures the nuances of language patterns found in geek speak.

Throughout the piece, Z also captures different aspects of geek speak. There are snippets of more colloquial terms that are less technical, but are nonetheless still used by geeks.  ““You’re gonna be toast”, “I’d be pretty much be toast”, and “when you get the math wrong, you’d be toast” are played back to back, slightly overlapping each other.

More technical phrases are used, but with less fragmentation:

“Didn’t have the ability handle 32-bit data pass in the rom—sorry the machine’s had the ability to handle it before the operating system did and then eventually had to go back and write and operating system to see X where you have to be buy a little enabler patch 32-bit mode…”

Geekspeak captures the essence of geekiness with its compositional methods. Z splices colloquial speech into overlapping bits, we understand here that geekiness is more than just being technical, it’s a habit of speech. Smaller fragments capture the nuanced patterns of speech, and technically phrases are either looped in a dense dizzying fashion or given more time to breathe within the piece. It’s compositionally reminiscent of Edgard Varese’s Poeme Electronique in that it uses pauses and buildups in an compositionally evocative way; the compositional methods enhance the content and meaning found in the audio interview samples used in Geekspeek.

  1. Excellent! Very impressive analysis of Geekspeak. I am very impressed that you went to the trouble of transcribing the text unless you found it written out somewhere. I’m very curious about that. You are absolutely right, she found just the right interviewees with the typical habits of speak, tonalities, inflections, jargon, and vocabulary to evoke the true essence of geekiness. Then she make the voice sound like a machine, with its repetition and complex layerings of noise. It was very relevant to point out the connection with Varese in terms of the use compositional techniques, the layers, textures and juxtaposition of noise and sound. Great job.