May 17th, 2013 Loudspeaker: A Symposium on The Voice

Presented by the Performa Institute

An Experimental Event on the voice in contemporary performance featuring artists and musicians Joan La Barbara, Jace Clayton, Florian Hecker, and Alex Waterman.

Friday, May 17, 2013
4:00 – 6:30 pm

The Cooper Union
Frederick P. Rose Auditorium
41 Cooper Square
New York City

Free admission with reservation,

New York, NY, April 18, 2013 – Performa is pleased to announce Loudspeaker: A Symposium for Extra-Normal Vocals, a concert-cum-symposium that considers the historic grounding of extended vocal technique as well as current developments within contemporary avant-garde performance. Pioneered by New York-based vocalists such as Joan La Barbara, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, and Diamanda Galas, participants will demonstrate the range of sounds of which the voice is capable, from vocal trills and ululation (Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk) to melisma (Whitney Houston and Beyoncé) and death growl (Napalm Death).  The various formats and approaches to the voice will be presented and demonstrated by pioneering vocalist Joan La Barbara; writer, musician and Performa 11 contributor Jace Clayton; Performa 13 commissioned artist Florian Hecker; contemporary vocalist Gelsey Bell; musician and composer Alex Waterman; and Performa 13 Curator Mark Beasley. The symposium will also feature key video works of vocal performance.

From infancy we are taught to modify and refine our vocal range. Extra Normal Vocals or Extended Vocal Technique, a method first used by Arnold Schoenberg in Pierrot Lunaire (1912) has been described as “the struggle to retain what was” and covers a range of performance practices that extend the sonic peculiarities of the human voice. Luciano Berio’s early composition “Sequenza III for female voice” (1965), a pivotal work for vocal experimentation, and Joan La Barbara’s influential LP Voice Is The Original Instrument paved the way for a current generation of performers who work with Auto-Tune and the note-extending vocal technique known as “melisma” (an ornamental phrase of several notes sung to one syllable of text), but most commonly heard in pop music.
“Voice is the original instrument,” stated La Barbara. For William S. Burroughs, it was a voracious virus passed from person to person through the passage of breath and the reading of text. It could also be described as the ultimate medium, the ur-form of communication, an unknowable material with fleeting presence. In recent years, the voice as form has been subject to new forms of construction, distribution, and dispersion. The original instrument is once again a focus for performers and curators alike.

Loudspeaker suggests the numerous ways in which the affects of the Modernist avant-garde have over time been adopted and adapted by pop form. One of the key themes of Performa 13 developed by Mark Beasley is the voice in performance. A series of vocal concerts, commissions, and related presentations will look at the myriad forms of the voice as communicative material. These projects continue Performa’s investigation of experimental and avant-garde music through numerous public concerts: Music for 16 Futurist Noise Intoners (curated by Luciano Cessa and Esa Nickle); A Fantastic World: A Select History of Experimental Music (curated by Mike Kelley, produced and co-curated by Mark Beasley), both Performa 09; and Fluxus and Otherwise (curated by Mark Beasley and Zach Layton), Performa 11.

In the first decade of 2000, several key publications have addressed the resurgent focus in visual arts performance upon the voice, specifically Steven Connor’s history of ventriloquism and the disembodied voice, Dumbstruck, (2001); Adriana Cavarero’s discussion of the embodied voice, For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression, (2005); and Mladen Dolar’s Lacanian examination of the voice as object, A Voice and Nothing More (2006). In some regard they all reinstate a conversation that has been deferred since the sixties, as has Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of the phonological voice in Of Grammatology (1967).  Derrida looked to redress the Western philosophical tradition’s emphasis on voice and speech above writing. His forceful and key argument against phonocentrism resulted in the positioning of the written word as not servant to speech but its equal. In many of his early writings, Derrida led the attack on logo and phonocentrism, and Rousseau’s suggestion of the authenticity of the voice, revealing instead its mediated and constructed-over-time nature. Dolar, Connor, and Cavarero all look to rescue the voice through the suggestion of its materiality, of its presence as form—as did Lawrence Weiner with regard to the written word—opening new discourse with regard to the voice. It has taken until now for the pendulum to swing back toward the voice as relevant form—it has done so not simply through the social impetus of the voice in art but rather the position of voice as form as present as steel, clay, paint, or bronze, aided by new forms of construction, distribution, and dispersion.

There have been several key exhibitions in recent years that examine the role and status of the voice and speech within visual arts performance. Examples include Hey Hey Glossolalia: exhibiting the voice, Creative Time, New York, curated by Mark Beasley, (2008); Oral Culture performance program, Jan Mot Gallery, Brussels (2008–2009); Talk Show, ICA, London, curated by Will Holder, Richard Burkett, and Jennifer Thatcher (2009); A Spoken Word Exhibition, the Baltic, Newcastle, curated by Mathieu Copeland (2009); The Voice is a Language, Tramway, Glasgow, curated by Isla Leaver Yap (2010); and The Queer Voice, ICA, University of Pennsylvania, curated by Ingrid Schaffner (2010).

Loudspeaker: A Symposium for Extra-Normal Vocals, organized by Performa Curator Mark Beasley, is a result of the practice-led Fine Art Ph.D. program at Reading University, UK; further text will appear in the forthcoming publication on The Voice in Performance.