Piero Scaruffi's
History of Avantgarde Music

Back to the Index | Feedback welcome

TM, ®, Copyright © 2004 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.

The voice

TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The intellectual curiosity that led to rediscover other musical cultures and alternative compositional techniques also led to explore the human voice as an emotional medium and musical instrument.

Meredith Monk (USA, 1942) coined a vocabulary of vocal sounds that she used to create theatrical performances. The Key (1970), Education Of The Girlchild (1973), Tablet (1977), Turtle Dreams (1983), Dolmen Music (1979), Atlas (1991) focus on acrobatic and schizophrenic mutations that run the gamut from child to witch. They populate the music of characters, moods and states of mind.

In 1970 Gloria Coates began experimenting with vocal extensions and creating multiphonics. That idea was pursued by Joan LaBarbara (USA, 1947), a collaborator of John Cage and other composers. She stunned the world of music with the hallucinated vocal symphonies of Vocal Extensions (1976), Klee Alex (1979), Berliner Traume (1983), Twelvesong (1984) and Rothko (1986).

Yoko Ono (USA, 1933), a student of John Cage, practiced a mixture of dissonant western music, Japanese kabuki recitation and visceral screeching that projected her stream of consciousness, a technique documented on the album Yoko Ono/ Plastic Ono Band (1970).

From the jazz world came the wordless, electronically-processed scat of Urszula Dudziak (Poland, 1943), who debuted as a leader with the album Newborn Light (1972), and Jeanne Lee (USA, 1939), whose album Conspiracy (1974) expanded the jazz vocabulary with elements borrowed from Tibet and India, inspired by Yma Sumac, taking advantage not only of the "voice" but also of lip and throat sounds.

Laurie Anderson (USA, 1947) bridged those experiments on the human voice with the pop sensibility, the dance rhythms and the creative spirit of the new wave, particularly in her multimedia opera United States I-IV (1982).

Diamanda Galas (USA, 1955) was the most extreme vocalist of the time. The atrocious free-form hysteria of Litanies Of Satan (1982), Panoptikon (1983) and Deliver Me (1986) invented a new form of lieder for voice and electronics, one that references ancient Greek choirs, medieval "danses macabres", the French "poets maudits", expressionist theater and, ultimately, sheer terror.

Percussionist and vocalist David Moss (USA, 1949) recorded the chaotic and cacophonic tour de force of Terrain (1980).

David Hykes (USA, 1953)'s Harmonic Choir was inspired by Mongolia's "hoomi" style on the hypnotic Hearing Solar Winds (1983) and Harmonic Meetings (1986).

Thomas Buckner was "the" voice of avantgarde music during the 1990s, especially in improvised and live electronic contexts. In abstract pieces such as Evocation (2002) and Totem (2005) he was capable of coining a highly personal (and psychological) language, a mournful mixture of mantra, shaman invocation and stream of consciousness. His improvisations spanned a broad range of mooods, techniques and structures, but maintained an underlying sense of unity due to Buckner's persona, an unlikely fusion of Alfred Jarry's Pere Ubu, expressionist theater and John Cage's silence.

Other contributions came from Shelley Hirsch (USA, 1952), with the symphony for voices and electronics Haiku Lingo (1990), and Robert Een with his "songs" for extended vocal techniques and cello.

Anna Homler (USA, 1948) invented her own language, both a vocal language and an instrumental language, to simulate international timeless folk music. Do Ya Sa' Di Do (1992) and Piewacket (2001), by the project Puppetina, a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Stepanie Payne, were in some way the vocal equivalent of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

A synthesis of sort was offered by Pamela "Z" Brooks (USA, 1956) in projects such as Echolocation (1988): the operatic vocal acrobatics was reminiscent of Meredith Monk while the setting within the context of live electronic music followed Diamanda Galas' example, although extended to sampling and found percussion.

Miya Masaoka (USA, 1958) erected one of the most complex post-minimalist structures in While I Was Walking I Heard A Sound (2003) for mixed choir of 100-150 voices.

Back to the Index | Next chapter

TM, ®, Copyright © 2004 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.