4.2 Musical roles – a simple categorising model


Observing my own practice, I can categorise, roughly, four roles that I take on in the improvised interplay. As with the categories in Chapter 3, these are experiential categories, defined by how I experience them, rather than technical, absolute categories. Further, this categorising must not be seen as a solid, theoretical framework, as that would call for a much more thorough academic investigation and discussion. My goal with such categorisation has been to find a useful tool for reflecting on my work in a practical and concrete way. Furthermore, this categorisation is a way of articulating some verbal answers to my research question about new possibilities and roles for the vocalist through the use of live electronics. These categories are to some degree related to the experience of meaning and “real world”, and to Andreas Bergsland’s suggested minimal- maximal model, operating in a range between central and peripheral zones, as described in Chapter 3.They also relate to the musical functions in the interplay.

 Musical roles:

–       The singer: the traditional vocalist’s role, singing a melody with or without words. Taking a musical focus in the interplay; a relatively high degree of naturalness, often experienced as meaning and/or representing “real world”; more central than peripheral zone[1].


–       The speaker: reciting or speaking text: poems, lyrics, improvised text, etc. with a musical focus. Like the singer, this is a rather traditional role for the vocalist: a high degree of naturalness often experienced as meaning and /or representing  “real world”. More central than peripheral zone.


–       The soundmaker: using different types of sounds to add colour to or accompany, comment or interact with the whole musical scenery – this can be done by using traditional elements like pitch and rhythm, or more abstract sounds. What separates this role from other roles is the main focus on sound and/or its function, going away from the voice as a bearer of meaning through melody or speech. This role has a more instrumental approach than the others. The voice-sound is often highly processed, or/and pre-recorded, in the peripheral zone, away from the experience of meaning and “real world”.


–       The soundsinger: a mix of the three aforementioned categories. This role includes the function of melody as commenting on or accompanying the musical scenery, rather than being a traditional lead voice; lyrics as sound more than meaning – “language” without bearing semantics. The voice is often medium processed .This is a mix between a vocal and an instrumental approach, with a “hint” of meaning and the “real world”. It is somewhere in between the central and peripheral zone. (This category could more appropriately be named sound-singer/speaker, but for practical reasons I have shortened it.)


It should be noted that I think of the two latter categories as new roles for the vocalist through the use of live electronics.


Another important “role” adopted by the use of live electronics, is the‘ real-time producer’ role. Using reverb, compressors and effects like I do is similar to what is being done in studio post-production. This has for me, of course, a musical function, but often it is not as distinctive on its own terms in the musical interplay as the other roles, so I have left it out in this model and will discuss it further in Section 4.2..


In all my various musical projects, I can observe myself taking on all of these roles. There are differences in the balance between the roles relating to who I play with and what music I play. For example, in my duo constellations I take on the accompanying role more often than when I play in a trio or a quintet (something which I will return to later).

Naturally, there are other factors that have an impact on the vocalist’s role in addition to the technical opportunities and techniques offered by live electronics. Musical frameworks and aesthetics, the degree of listening and interaction between the musicians in the improvisation, and also to some degree the other instrumentalists by virtue of the way they take on their roles in the given interplay, open up for various new roles. If the drummer sticks to a solid groove and the synth player to a bass line and even chords, this is a very different scenario compared to a musical approach where the roles are less defined. I will exemplify below how I experience my different roles in the interplay with different instrumental settings. I will also demonstrate how the above categorising has its limits, by providing examples of where functions/roles and activities are hard to “define” within this model. Further, I will demonstrate the very subjective premises for this “analysis”, being based on how I experience the music in question.

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[1] The central and peripheral zones (Bergsland, 2010) and conception of  “real world” is discussed in Sections 3.1.2 and 3.2.2.

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