It speaks to his skill and creativity as a composer that Paul Lansky's Six Fantasies on a Poem by Thomas Campion, though composed in the earliest stages of modern computer technology, manages to draw attention away from the (now-dated) electronic means by which it was created and instead focus the ear on its sometimes startling musical shapes. Following Milton Babbitt's maxim that nothing has a shorter shelf life than a "new" electronic sound, Six Fantasies initiates what for Lansky will become a lifelong project: the employment of electronic sound manipulation not so much as a tool for creating yet-unheard sound, but rather introspectively, as a means of exploring the sonic environment of everyday human experience.
Campion's poem, originally published in 1602 as "Rose cheekt Lawra," takes as its subject Petrarch's famed muse. Her beauty, Campion tells us, resonates with a "silent musick" that far transcends the "dull notes we sing" with our voices. Likewise, the composer was attracted to Campion's poetry because of its attention to sonic contour, as well as semantic content. Indeed, the composer insists, he saw in Campion (himself a composer as well as a poet) a common interest in the relationship between the spoken and the sung word. "Speech and song are commonly considered different and distinct -- as apples and oranges," Lansky observes. "It is my feeling, however, that they are more usefully thought of as occupying opposite ends of a spectrum, encompassing a wealth of musical potential." Rather than setting Campion's text as a song, Lansky uses a recording of the poem (as read by his wife and frequent collaborator, Hannah MacKay) as raw materials for digital manipulation. Each of the six fantasies approaches the same four stanzas of poetry but with different tools and techniques. One of the most important is a computing technique known as Linear Predictive Coding, which involves predicting a given moment of sound data according to algorithms that consider the sound date previous to it. In telecommunications field this has a purely pragmatic use, as a means of storing huge quantities of sound data in as small a digital space as possible; in the musical realm, however, the parameters of this technique can be adjusted and exploited to drastically alter the sonic shape of the input sound. Within two decades of the Six Fantasies, Linear Predictive Coding would become a ubiquitous tool for composers of electronic music. Lansky applies it and a variety of other effects (including various reverberation envelopes and digital sound filters) in order to "read" the poem according to six of Laura's (or perhaps MacKay's) aspects, each corresponding with the title of one of the six fantasies: her voice, her presence, her reflection, her song, her ritual, and her self. This last fantasy, appropriately, renders the text without layers of opaque effects, leaving the words to be understood at once clearly and with the added perspective of the previous sonic explorations.