3.2.1 Challenges

I have already mentioned the – from my experience ‒ unwanted attention the voice can get (when wanting to blend rather than taking focus). Even if the vocal performer’s focus is sound, not meaning, this can easily happen due to the human orientation towards the voice as a communication source, as stated earlier. I will return to the challenge of blending in elsewhere, and focus on a slightly different, but still very connected challenge: the easy access to meaning and emotion that lies in the performer’s natural or real world vocabulary. By this I mean the arsenal of non-textual communication-sounds. This has also become very obvious to me through my teaching practice. I regularly use free improvisation with the voice as part of my method, for all students, not only singers. It is difficult to avoid “theatrical” developments in the first sessions of vocal improvisation if there is no outspoken rule against it presented before the exercise. (And even with an outspoken rule it can be difficult…) The students often delve into sighing, crying, shouting, laughing, imitating motors and a dog barking, etc… Much of our natural non-verbal vocabulary is connected to the expression of emotions, or imitating real world sounds, sounds that mean or represent something in this world. This part of our vocabulary is of course also important in art forms like sound poetry, vocal performance art and contemporary vocal music. One example is Cathy Berberian’s “Stripsody”[1], with its emotional outbursts and “cartoon-onomatopoetic” sounds. I experience that the connection to meaning or emotion in voice uttering is sometimes difficult to control. As an example, there is a thin line separating the possible understandings of a “neutral” breathing sound; is it an expression of fear, of surprise or of sexual pleasure? Being a vocal performer I experience a challenge here, a need for awareness, in relation to what I want to express with my music. For me, the use of electronics is one way to overcome these challenges, by “disguising” the traces of emotional input, or making the expression ambiguous by blurring, mechanising, “rhythmising”, minimising or adding something to, the natural voice sound.

Example III, 2: ”Thhh”, studio improvisation with Michael Duch 2011


From the start of the sequence I am working with breath sounds in different ways. The first sound is a pre-sampled sound from my Roland SP555. At 0.17, I use natural/acoustic breaths, which I also sample as Hadron-loops. At 0.46 I use the Roland-sample and the processed Hadron-loops at the same time. Breath sounds is my main material for the first 46 sec. of this improvisation, and the use of electronics makes it possible to vary the material and blur, or even erase, the emotional expression in parts of it.

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[1]magnifiCathy – the many voices of Cathy Berberian” ,Wergo Scallplatten 1971/1988, West Germany

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