3.1.1 Electronics and freedom with distance

 

My motivation for this project, and for working with electronics at all, is my experience of how live electronics open up new and interesting possibilities for me as a vocalist. In the improvising a cappella ensemble Kvitretten[1], I found it inspiring to work with acoustic extended vocal techniques in our collective improvisation, being able to both blend into and peak out of the other singers’ sounds. When trying to improvise like this together with other instruments than acoustic voice(s), I found it somehow difficult to use extended vocal techniques. I felt that the voice-sound did not blend in; sounds that were intended to “make a colour” or to accompany something else, most often stood out as being ‟human comments” with a different focus than those that I wanted to have. During this period I had already started to experiment with electronics, and through the use of a guitar-effect machine I started to discover how transformation of the voice could offer a new freedom when playing drums and synthesizers in my trio BOL[2]. In my experience, the use of electronic processing brings in a new, important element in comparison with acoustic extended vocal techniques: a perceived distance from the natural voice sound. This distance opens up, in a different way than extended vocal techniques, the possibilities of interacting with other instruments. Why? The natural voice tends to draw special attention in an instrumental setting. This probably has to do with (at least) two things: 

– The historical role, and therefore the audience’s expectations of the singer.

– That fact that the sound of the voice is very easily recognisable with reference to the    listener’s own (or any human being’s) voice.

I will return to discussing the role of the singer in Chapter 4, and focus here on the special qualities of the voice as a musical instrument. In his PhD thesis Experiencing Voices in Electroacoustic Music[3] (Bergsland, 2010), Andreas Bergsland examines the use of the voice in electroacoustic music from a listener’s perspective. In his research he has focused on how humans experience the sound of the voice.

 

There is little doubt that the voice has a special status for all human beings across cultures, being the primal carrier of communication, a very important one for non-verbal communication, and of course one of the primary “instruments” of musical expression. This special status is also mirrored in a perceptual sensitivity to vocal sounds, and to any meaning that these sounds may convey, be it linguistic, identity related or affective. That this sensitivity is apparent at a very early stage of our development shows its importance.  (Bergsland 2010, p. 71)

 

Bergsland also refers to neurological research that point towards voice-sensitive areas and mechanisms in the brain. It is not surprising that the voice gets our attention before other sounds. But for me, this attention is not always wanted. If I want to blend musically into something else, or want to be a part of the music without adopting a main focus, this is a hard task for the acoustic voice. The distance from acoustic voice sound, provided by electronic processing, therefore provides new musical opportunities, through my experience.

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[1] Described in Section 1.5

[2] Described in Section 1.5.

[3] Bergsland, Andreas: Experiencing Voices in Electroacoustic Music, NTNU, Trondheim 2010.

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