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Extended vocal technique and Joan La Barbara: The relational ethics of voice on the edge of intelligibility

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This article explores vocalist and composer Joan La Barbara’s use of extended vocal technique, and its implications for imagining new kinds of ethical and political relationality with the voice. Focusing on her earliest composition, ‘Voice Piece: One-note internal resonance investigation’ (first premiered in 1974), the article examines her compositional process, tracking its development in the American experimental music tradition, and its relationship to improvisation and embodiment. Working outside of language and celebrating unconventional vocalizations, La Barbara’s music thrives on the dynamics of vocal discovery and mystery, realigning the voice away from customary modes of subjecthood based on speech and paralinguistic primary attributes, and towards a posthumanist vocality that does not seek to resolve all elements of foreignness. Drawing on theories from philosophers like Jacques Rancière and Judith Butler, the political and ethical concerns of the voice are re-examined within the locus of extended vocal technique as seen through La Barbara’s example.
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Keywords: Joan La Barbara; experimental music; extended vocal technique; improvisation; posthumanism; relationality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent Scholar

Publication date: May 1, 2016

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  • JIVS provides a forum for scholarly and practice-based engagement with voice as a phenomenon of communication and performance, and a methodology or metaphor for analysis. This peer-reviewed journal draws on an interdisciplinary series of lenses, including cultural studies, critical theory, performance studies, inter-culturalism, linguistics, visual culture, musicology, architecture and somatics.
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