4.1 The singer’s traditional role


“Such a beautiful girl with such a beautiful voice and then she does THAT!” (Upset elderly lady at a BOL concert who wanted her money back”)


“Do you also sing some real songs ? ” (Danish sound technician after concert with Marilyn Mazur and her ensemble)


“I feel, in one way, that you are hiding behind the electronic” (Musicologist)


Our musical experience is partly formed by conventions and expectations, as are our experiences of life as a whole. Vocalists are certainly not the only musicians who can experience this situation as being a challenge. (Consider the harpist or the piccolo flute, and register what visual and auditory references you have.) Still, there are some extra musical conventions connected to the singer as the historical front figure, the ‘diva’, the one who draws the attention of the listener and who is the link between the band and the audience. When considering the special position of the voice as a bearer of meaning and representing the “real world” in an instrumental setting (as discussed in Chapter 3), we are not only dealing with conventions developed through historical practices, but also with the intuitive human response to the voice as such. I will not go into a deep analysis of this matter, but in the search for new roles and possibilities as a vocalist, we must remember that this is part of the picture. This very picture is also a question of genre. In one of my conversations with Maja Ratkje, I talked about how some members of the audience could be provoked by the more abstract, aggressive and noisy expressions of my voice and electronics. She replied instantly that the opposite would actually be the case for her; operating in the noise-scene, a beautiful melody could be experienced as provoking. This reminds me that even if I would like to imagine my music as being genre-crossing and fairly free from conventions, it never is. The context, the conventions and the expectations are always part of the way music is perceived. How does this situation affect me?


For many years I have “neglected” some of the conventions and expectations associated with the singer’s traditional role. I have noted that some listeners, and even some colleges, sometimes wants me to adopt a different role than what I actually do, especially when I play with other instrumentalists, i.e. to be more of a traditional front figure, visually and musically. I have been especially provoked by comments regarding my use of electronics as being visually disturbing, taking the focus away from me. I have often responded to such comments by asking the commentator if they also feel disturbed by the fact that the keyboard player is turning knobs and hitting the keys on his instrument. I have been wondering whether their responses were grounded in a musical or a visual experience – as if it were possible to separate those aspects when witnessing a performance.  (Would they have had the same experience if they closed their eyes? Probably not (as the findings in “Voice Meetings” shows (see Chapter 7)), but the performance is also a visual experience). Seeking freedom to choose my roles in the interplay, I decided that I would not care about such expectations, but rather act as though they did not exist. Then, about half way into this research programme, I held a presentation at one of the programme’s seminars, showing a clip from a concert video. Not surprisingly, the comments received from some of the other fellows were, among others, that they would like me to be more “in visual focus”. As usual, I defended my “right” to stay out of the expected vocalist focus, both visually and musically. And after hearing my arguments the participants in the discussion absolutely agreed. This situation made me realise one obvious fact: even if my audience can understand in retrospect my point of view intellectually, this has nothing to do with how they actually experience the performance. I had overlooked the performative dimension of any experience; it is not up to me to decide, or control, how the audience perceives the performance as a whole. I do not have to like, agree or follow the conventions and premises – on the other hand I cannot pretend that they do not exist. The audience and the conventions of the audience are part of the performance, as is the room, the setting, the sound system… whether I like it or not.


Accepting this fact has not altered my decision to feel free from the traditional vocalist role, but it has broadened my mind. What I have been thinking from the very start of this project, is that I should, at any time in the music I create, be intuitively aware of what role I am taking on. A developed awareness regarding the different roles could possibly bring more clarity to the performance as a whole, also for the audience. For me, this awareness cannot be established as a concrete idea or plan; it has to become a musical impulse and intuitive knowledge. This knowledge comes first and foremost from experience, through rehearsing and holding concerts – but also from listening to recordings of my work and reflecting on the different roles and functions that I use.

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