The Voice and its Double
The Voice and its Double

"The Voice and its Double" focuses on works where the human voice exerts an explicit audible presence or where it exists as a concealed reference. Some of these poetic and musical works are contemporary, others are taken from resonant moments in the history of the artistic use of the voice and its recording.

Archival treasures like as Carl Stumpf's scientific vowel experiments conducted between 1914 and 1916 are brought to life alongside the ground-breaking work of Karl-Heinz Stockhausen's 1956 "Song of the Youths" and Henri Chopin's 'electronic poems' from the 1960s. Such ‘classics’ find themselves in dialogue with contemporary artists like Franck Leibovici, Gordon Monahan, Kathrin Sonntag, and the Honey-Suckle Company and contemporary composers like Werner Bärtschi, Francesco Hoch, and Laurie Spiegel. With Lettrism and other avant-garde activities constituting a cardinal point in the orientation of any mapping of the voice as creative research territory, a range of such works, besides Chopin, is represented: Gabriel Pomerand’s first Lettrist symphony from 1946, audio poems by François Dufrêne and other contributions to the "Revue OU", poems by Françoise Canal and Sandra Scarnati, and a late recording of the founder of Lettrism, Isidore Isou.

My own research as an artist engaged with the voice is revealed through works like the installation "Sing With Me" (2002), the performance series "Ah" (2007), and is fundamental in the performance "Singing Over a Voice Study" (2008), where I sing long tones over a voice-over recording by Charlemagne Palestine. As this piece lets go of the conventional guide-ropes of language and melody and even eschews recognisable compositional devices, the listener finds herself concentrating on those long tones and the voice itself is illuminated as an organ.

The possibility of recording provides a structural frame in which all the work in "The Voice And Its Double" can be organised. Recording ‘memorises’ material that can in its turn be ‘remembered’ when it is placed on a record player and the needle dropped into the groove. I see an analogy here with the way that an organ flute can be replayed by the air flowing through it. The record player (the sampler, the synthesizer…) becomes the musical instrument, and the recording becomes its 'flute' able to be blown into life in an almost limitless variety of sound. From my perspective, the recorded voice – at least when it retains its recognisable contours - must always be heard as a personal message. Conversely, when instruments imitate the human voice (a process that finds its paradigm with the synthesiser) the intimate message of the individual becomes occluded, the personal background of the musician or programmer shading, with the music (and art itself), into obscurity. When the rawness of vocal expression rises to the surface, the listener is reminded of the individual behind the sound, hearing their way from the performed expression of feelings outwards to those vocalisations beyond language: laughter, cries of pain, the moans of lust. In Lettrism such expressions were always at play. For its co-founder, Isidore Isou, Lettrist music should return to the shout and the voice as the primordial elements of art, an invocation which announces the collision of the personal and the artistic in musical work.

Recording can lay the voice’s personal message open for cold analysis but it can also violently propel the message and its emotions towards a listener who may well be a long way away – in space and in time – from the original vocaliser. Despite this distance, and without the stabilising reference of image or knowledge, the recorded voice can evoke such directness and intimacy that it can even address the cruelty of human existence that Antonin Artaud embraced in "The Theatre of Cruelty" (1932), released in the anthology "The Theatre And Its Double" (1938). If I follow Artaud, artistic work with the voice should incorporate all its cruel sides, those that are normally only audible in raw, un-artistic circumstances as expressions of unfiltered agony or boredom.

To draw that raw otherness of the voice into the reach of art requires great skill in creating a deliberate tension between proximity and distance. Stockhausen’s "Song of the Youths", sung by one 12 year old boy, and afterwards doubled into a choir, is the emblematic instance of this strategy. At one moment, the voice comes very close and the listener can imagine a boy breathing inches away from their ear; at the next instance, things fade away, the voice drifting off into a choir of ghosts. Part II of the "Symphony No. 3" by Isidore Isou provides another evocative example. Based on a poem of his dating back to 1947, from just after he had arrived in Paris from Romania, Isou was encouraged to record it in performance as an old man in 2000. When Frédéric Acquaviva mixed the voice into a choir, the passage of time and the intervention of recording, conspired to shroud the avantgarde work of the young Isou with a cloak of testimony, made heavier with its composer’s death in 2007.

"In The Voice and its Double", the absent and the present, the close and the distant, the recorded and the real, the single and its double, art and its other, all these find a home of sorts.

October 2009

Curator's Essay

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