Maori ‘Tekoteko' image, adapted from a sculpture at the Auckland War Museum, New Zealand. "In 1996 I was invited to a Voice Teachers Congress in Auckland. In an impassioned speech, the mission of voice teachers was described as one of purifying the ugly sounds of the world so that voices could move upwards - literally - into higher and more spiritual realms. This exhortation took place in a Maori ‘Wharenui', a ceremonial house, the speaker standing directly in front of two Tekotekos, each seven feet tall, like the one above. I could not believe my eyes – and ears !" Enrique Pardo
The 2006 VOICES Summer University proposes two apparently disparate themes: one dealing with music, the other with voice qualities known as "broken sounds”. The two themes have a clear underground connection when one recognises that the timbres and textures described as "broken" are confined to certain kinds of music. The popular music specialist Nick Hobbs helped make a clear if polemical distinction when he divided the vocal musical world into " Bel Canto " and "Hell Canto". It is in "Hell Canto" that one hears "broken sounds". They are banned in " Bel Canto "...
in contemporary voice performance
Let's start with the obvious: music is omnipresent in contemporary live performance. Why such an influence? What is its role, especially in performances where the spoken word has a strong or even central importance? What is music's particular ‘say', for instance, in choreographic theatre? If we listen to music mythologically, as ‘an other' voice: where does it come from? Who speaks through it? What is being said? Or to put it in a nutshell: “Who is the Music?”
In these performing models there is a radical distanciation, or even dissociation between voice and music, between the performing voice (whether it speaks or sings) and the voice of music. In these mostly image-based forms of theatre, music contributes to the overall imaginal synthesis from its own separate ‘mythological' level of reality.
Cinema provides a useful model of comparison: music has no direct musical link with the voices of ‘realistic reality': the characters hardly ever ‘hear' the music - musicals being the exception that confirms the rule.
Our aim is to identify imaginally and critically the voices of music and enrich the performers' and the musicans' perceptions and choices: how do we listen to music as a narrative intelligence , one that brings comments from a different level of reality. We will call on mythology as a model where different levels of reality interact.
We are also using here an extended definition of the voice: to have a voice is to have a say. A voice is a presence that counts (politically, it's a vote). Voice creates a person - a word made of per sonare (to sound through): a person is a voice coming through.
We have invited to the 2006 Summer University colleagues who all work both with voice and with music. We look forwards to hearing how they hear the voice of music and, of course, how they compose, sing, dance, play with it.
are so-called “broken sounds”
Under the generic term “broken sound” we are considering all forms of multiphonic vocal emissions, that is, sounds that break, split, crack, shred, splinter, roll (and rock), drone, howl, holler, chant, wail and generally fracture the textural (and emotional) uniformity of a vocal emission.
The term “broken sound” was the militant one used by the Roy Hart Theatre in the 1960s – the reason why I am bringing it back here. “Breaking sounds” carries connotations of the period's upheavals: breaking the sound barrier, revolutionary break-throughs, breaking virginal integrities. It is an iconoclastic term (we should really speak of “phonoclasm”!) It also sounds dangerously close to “breaking voices”… to recklessness, to crude and aggressive expressionism, and of course, to damage, to vocal pathologies, and to litterally broken voices.
As part of the tributes to Alfred Wolfsohn at last year's Summer University we were reminded that the founding moment of his voice work was linked to the sounds of dying soldiers during World War One. Broken sounds, broken souls, broken bodies.
We also discussed the poem Biodrame , written by Serge Béhar in 1972, and which Roy Hart to a great degree made into his own manifesto . He underlined the link between violence and personal and artistic transformation. The poem defines acting in terms of : “I have aggressed my body in order to come closer to you” (J'ai aggressé mon corps pour me rapprocher de toi.) Were “broken sounds” the core of this self-aggression for the sake of generosity?
Since those pioneer years the world has heard and got used to all sorts of multiphonic broken vocal sounds, from Mongolian and Tibetan chants to Heavy Metal, from David Hikes' harmonics to the great tide of soul music – Ray Charles, Howling Wolf (just the name!) and especially a white woman singer who rekindled these discussions when more than one lyrical singer confessed she had come to work with us because she wanted to sing like… Janis Joplin! This triggered the Nick Hobbs' yearly lectures on “ Bel Canto and Hell Canto ”. We shall be hearing his third instalment this year with nearly 100 recordings and videos – from the blues to flamenco.
Greek mythology has a crucial myth where something like the great split between bel canto and hell canto occurs: the musical competition between Apollo and Marsyas. In Ovid's version, the looser, Marsyas, is flayed to death and his blood turns into a red river - the great river of “broken sounds”?
Vicente Fuentes will be presenting the physiology of broken sounds with videos filmed in collaboration with France 's top voice specialist, Doctor Guy Cornut. It would seem that possibly the most important factor in their production are the so-called false vocal chords (ventricular bands) just above the presumably “true” vocal chords. Is this another instance of bel against hell ?