1.5.6 Other artists – and me


Looking at some of the artists that I consider important to me and to the field I relate to, it seems that the individuality and the variety in the expression of these performers is striking compared to other genres. Instead of categorising, I will therefore look at what some of them do that I also recognise in my own work.

Both Sidsel Endresen and Eldbjørg Raknes, described above, could be seen as part of the vocal performance art field as well as the jazz scene. Of the two, Raknes is the most “similar” to me in the way she works; we both use live electronics in solo performances and in musical interplay with other musicians, and we both work with vocal sound sculpting and more traditional elements in a mixed expression. Some of the differences between us lie in the way we use the live electronics, the choice of techniques and sounds, who we choose to play with, and perhaps most importantly our personal musical language. Raknes also uses the solo format more than I do.


I experience Jaap Blonk, Phil Minton and David Moss, as being more “experimental-oriented” singers; they are in some ways related to each other through their development and use of extended techniques based on the acoustic voice, and also through their orientation towards Western contemporary music. However, two of them use electronics (Blonk and Moss) and the third does not use any electronics. I think that I share their experimental approach in some of my work, but with less focus on the acoustic voice alone; rather the extension of sound possibilities through the combination of voice and electronics. I also use traditional musical elements, like repetitive rhythm and recognisable melody, a lot more than these artists, even in my free-improvised situations.


The “sound poet approach” to text in works by Blonk and Moss is also recognicable in some of my work. In his work with his band Denseland, (Denseland: Chunk Mosz, 2011), David Moss works  ‒ in some ways ‒ in a similar manner to me in my duo with Thomas Strønen, combining his experimental approach with the use of electronics, and also, like me, sometimes mixing it with more traditional jazz/pop elements. Further, in Denseland he is working with processed voice sounds as a part of an “instrumental whole”, taking on other roles than the soloist, in the improvised interplay with instrumentalists. Apart from this, we differ both in the choice of sounds and techniques, and not at least in the choice of musical parameters.


I also consider the Norwegian Maja Ratkje (as improvising performer) and some of the American Mike Patton’s work as being experimental, but more oriented towards contemporary music and noise when compared to my work, although I feel related to and inspired by their world of sounds and their open approach. These performers are also working with extended techniques, and often with electronics as well. I feel that my some of work with Thomas Strønen has adopted a similar “sound-flavour” and attitude.


An interesting turn in music technology has been the development of new interfaces to control electronic processing and techniques. This obviously comes from a need for a stronger connection between body gestures and sound than that supported by traditional devices. Working with custom-made MIDI controllers and programming, artists like Pamela Z (San Francisco) and Alex Nowitz (Germany)  produce visual performances, mostly solo, where body movement is an important part of the whole, and incorporating unique musical expressions. In our “Skylab Audiovsion” project, my trio BOL experimented briefly with the use of infrared sensors and hand movements. One important aspect of this was the visual connection between movements and sound, but it also made things sound different and new through this new way of sound control. This is something that I have just touched upon (also literary speaking…), but which I would like to experiment with further. Still, in my project exploring the improvised interplay, I found the sensors to be not quite satisfactory, as I will get back to in Chapter 2


Laurie Anderson and AmyXNeuberg are both performance and concept-oriented artists, but perhaps not “as experimental” as others in the field of vocal performance art. They often have, in their performances, a musical expression that is based on traditional musical elements in their genre. This is also partly a starting point for me. In some of my work I search for ways to implement new vocal roles in music that is based on more traditional, genre-rooted  elements, like BOL’s more structured compositions. With the project “Nature is not Beautiful!” (BOL) we are moving towards a (for us) new performance form, through the playback of recorded text cycles as a structuring element, and  by bringing in the role of the storyteller/commentator/speaker. My solo project, where I play with roles in the range between the storyteller and the sound -sculpturer, is also performance-oriented, though still within a “small scale” compared to the vocal performance art scene. This solo project is, among other things, inspired by the “musical stories” of Laurie Anderson, like Langue d’Amour  (Home of the Brave, 1984), although I have a very different approach, seeking a more natural/less theatrical expression.


Norwegian performers in the field

In addition to the Norwegian vocalists already mentioned, contemporary artists like Hanna Gjermundrød, , Anita Kaasbøll and Ingrid Lode  all seem to be related to some of the various artistic and experimental approaches used in the vocal performance art field. Like myself they also work (to various degrees) with live electronics in their interplay with other musicians in different ways. Some of the more pop/jazz- oriented artists in this field, Jarle Bernhoft, Mari Kvien Brunvoll and Ine Hoem, are all exploring electronic possibilities as solo artists with looping techniques as an important basis for their live performances. Their musical approach is rather different from mine, due to the choice of musical parameters and genre. Still, it interesting that their use of electronics as a “one man band”, allows them take on new musical roles in the interplay with themselves, producing both the accompaniment and the soloist. Ine Hoem also uses live electronics in her interplay with the band “Pelbo”, as does Ingrid Lode with “Kobert”, and along with Eldbørg Raknes’ various bands that were mentioned earlier, these are what I see as being the most obvious parallels to my work with BOL.

In the light of something else

In the foregoing I have discussed briefly some differences and similarities in how I work with music and live electronics compared to others, both in my field and in related fields, and I have some difficulties in finding very clear parallels to my work. The orientation in the field of voice and use of electronics has been a necessary part of my process, and important differences have made me see more clearly what my project is about. One particular strong experience in this respect was my instant fascination with a very different kind of artistic work: I “discovered” Alex Nowitz – who I have already mentioned briefly in this chapter.

Alex Nowitz is a German vocal performer and composer. He was invited to undertake a residency at STEIM [1] in 2007, where he collaborated with composer Daniel Schorno to develop a live electronic setup for vocal performance. He worked with gestural controllers (Wii[2] remote controllers), a computer (MacBook) and STEIM software (LiSa and junXion). An article about this work, with a video demonstration, can be found here.

(Nowitz has subsequently been developing a new set of controllers as well.)

I was genuinely fascinated by his work, because his controllers seemed very intuitive and flexible, and his use of them was exiting. I started thinking seriously about going to STEIM to possibly create a setup that I could use in my work. (I even contacted Nowitz to hear if there was any chance of meeting him there.) Then, after further consideration, I realised that this would be a big step out of direction – in relation to my project and my artistic goals. There were several reasons for this:

–       Such a setup would involve learning a new and rather advanced instrument. It would demand a long period of training to control it. This made me realise that my project is rooted in my experiences and skills with the tools I already know, as an important part of my musical context and references.


–       Nowitz’s invention is a great instrument for the solo performer. It is very “visual” and it is exciting to see Nowitz’s performances. My project is very much about being able to blend into the interplay with other musicians. It was obvious to me that an instrument like Nowitz’s instrument would make it (even more) difficult to achieve this musical goal.


–       I experienced Nowitz’s performances and musical project as being very connected to the way his instrument was designed. He was playing with sound and structure in a very free and experimental way. His playing could sometimes remind me about the structures in some noise music, fragmented and thematic, with sudden shifts and extreme dynamics. He worked, as I do, with a range extending from natural voice sounds to abstract, processed sounds. The different processing techniques and his use of them gave him a very wide range of expression. This made me aware that the scale of my own expressional range is quite different to that of Nowitz. As far as I can see, when compared to Nowitz’s work (at least in some of his performances using remote controllers), I work with a closer relationship to the acoustic voice ‒ even if I think of my voice as being transformed by the use of effects and reverbs (this will be described further in Chapters 3 and 4).  I also work with sounds that I experience as being abstract in relation to natural voice sounds – but in this respect I have a limit, i.e. when I experience that the sounds become “too digital” to my ears. (“Too digital” is not a proper term (I work with digital devices that probably sound very “digital” to other people’s ears) ‒ still it is actually a term used by musicians in my field to describe a negative experience of computer-processed sound.) I tried to imagine Nowitz’s way of working with advanced computer-processed sound in my ensembles.  Many of the sounds and techniques in use would, as I experienced it, conflict with my relationship with my other musical vocabulary, the other musicians in the interplay and the music as such. This made me fundamentally aware of the genre which my project is rooted in ‒ even if I think of my work as being “genre-crossing” and inspired by experimental music and vocal performance art. I became aware of clear aesthetic preferences, musical premises and borderlines regarding sound, musical components and structure in my music. These preferences and premises are defined by the music I have related to and been part of throughout the years, as described earlier in this chapter. It is a genre that mediates between sound-based and intervallic improvisation, between musical paradigms that can be recognised as Afrological and Eurological[3]. These are terms that will be discussed further in Chapter 6.


Next page  ➡

[1] Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music in Amsterdam, http://www.steim.org/steim/

[2] Wii : Nintendo home video game

[3] Lewis, George E.: “Improvised music after 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives” in Cox &Warner (ed): Audioculture-readings in modern music, Continuum, NewYork/London, 2009, pp. 282-283.

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