Skip to content

Memorizing the Tristan Chord

As any conscientious student from Hong Kong would tell you, one way to internalize an aural phenomenon is to make up a Cantonese phrase that replicates the pitch contour of the aural phenomenon in question. This method is effective for a range of academic pursuits, from foreign language pronunciation and musical passage memorization, to mathematical equation recitation.
Through an open call, I recruited Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong to invent Cantonese phrases that would map perfectly onto the pitch contour that leads up to and immediately follows the Tristan chord.
The texts that the participants came up with fall loosely into four categories: (1) auto-biographical statements, (2) haiku-like poetic expressions, (3) responses to the scenario of the interview itself, (4) lists of things. Phrases from categories 1 and 3 were often surprisingly personal and borderline Freudian. Participants brought their preoccupations into the process. Singing sessions turn into confessions of repressed desires.