The Human Voice in a New World

February 17, 2009
Jessica Schmitz

The human voice is one of the earliest instruments for musical expression. On the other hand, our current technological exploration within the musical landscape offers unparalleled expression through sound. From techno-matic instruments to motion-synth sensors, new technologies are created everyday that take music where it's never been before. So what happens when you partner a primordial instrument with modern cutting-edge electronics? Such a crossroads is exactly what The Human Voice in a New World will explore. This series of concerts, produced by Electronic Music Foundation, will reveal new levels of expressivity and meaning for the voice through technology.

The festival begins on Monday, February 23, with the North American premiere of Messa di Voce, a state-of-the-art multimedia production at Frederick Loewe Theater, produced as a collaboration with the NYU Interactive Arts Series. Created by Tmema (Golan Levin and Zachary Lieberman), Messa di Voce features master vocalist-improvisers Joan La Barbara and Jaap Blonk performing with transformative technologies that produce theatrical, dynamically-generated visualizations. Golan Levin poses the question: "If we could see our speech, what might it look like?"

Well, as one example, it could look like this

The festival continues on Friday, February 27, at Judson Church with premieres by Joel Chadabe and Richard Kostelanetz, and Trevor Wishart. The evening begins with the world premiere of Chadabe’s Micro Fictions, a setting of Richard Kostelanetz’s minimalist story in which each paragraph is a single word. In talking about the work, Chadabe explains that "I understood my task to be that of composing musical settings that would complement the words, enhance the narrative, and expand the experience of each word with the sounds that I composed."

Trevor Wishart, in a rare American appearance, performs the New York premiere of Vocalise and presents Globalalia. Vocalise, an improvisation for amplified solo voice, first appeared on the famed 1979 release Trevor Wishart & Friends. According to Wishart, Vocalise explores the transformation between different kinds of sounds and the potential of the voice, as he puts it, "when in a tight corner". Globalalia, for fixed media and voice, processes the syllables of twenty-six different languages sampled from radio and TV broadcasts from around the world to reveal "the universal dance of human speech spoken in tongue".

Trevor Wishart

Saturday, February 28, the closing event of the series, features Bora Yoon and David Moss. Vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and composer Bora Yoon has been described as " …operatic and intense, genre-scrambling and iconoclastic…" by Noise Art Magazine. In Saturday’s concert, the dynamic Yoon will "explore where sound connects to the subliminal" through timbre languages of the voice, found sounds, new and antiquated instruments, and electronic devices in her work ( (( PHONATION)) ).

Bora Yoon

Extreme vocalist David Moss ends the evening with the world premiere of the English version of Voice Box Spectra. He invokes what he calls FTL (Faster than Logic Communication) for the occasion, with new songs, scrambled text, tangled stories, personal electronics, and odd objects. As he puts it, "In our data-streamed, meta-morphing in/out world, there must be a rhythm that drives the human genetic package. Is it a pulse, a beat, a chant buried somewhere in the depths of our memories, neuron chains and chemical hieroglyphics? … Sometimes what is being communicated can't be expressed in any grammar or speech system, only in music and song—modified, mediated and manipulated by technology’s babbling boxes—and the muscles, blood, and air that fuel the voice."

David Moss

The Human Voice in a New World is a unique event, a particular concentration of state-of-the-art technology, vocal talent, and cutting-edge creativity that may never happen again. Don't miss it! The details are available at the EMF Productions site.

EMF Productions