KOAN #6: Electronics and Voice

After a few weeks of experiments and composing work with Koans and my voice only, I got tempted to try out some electronic manipulation of my voice. First simply live looping, and discovering some effects, then live sampling and using samples to play and interact with. Later on a whole world of crafting my own sounds opened and appealed to me. The recording production and most of the mixing of the album was done by me.

The interest in both extended vocal techniques and electronics is not a new tendency. And the field that I am operating now, would probably fall into a category of live- electronics and experimental vocal music. There are many vocalists who have been working in this area for decade(s) longer than I have. And to name a few from the “Norwegian block”. Tone Åse, Maja Ratkje and Sidsel Endresen And even though Sidsel Endresen is not working with live electronics, her impact on the current Nordic Improvising music scene is unavoidable and she would definitely fall into the same “inspirational” category for me with the two previous ones. What is similar to Tone Åse and Sidsel Endresen is their “jazz” background, I believe. In my ears, the melodic, storytelling background shines through even in the most sound based pieces. Maja Ratkje then again, is clearly from another tradition (contemporary composition, sound art) or at least taken clearly another direction. Her way of using the voice as a material and not only as in dialogue with the electronics is very inspiring.

From the experimental vocal improvisers side, there are also names worth mention like Maggie Nicholls, Phil Minton, Koichi Makigami, David Moss, Julianne Barwick and her collaboration with Ikue Mori that represents something a little different than the previous names. I won’t go into details in analyzing or my likes and dislikes in their work because of the lack of space in this paper.

Other interesting artists on the contemporary field more closely related to electronics and electronic manipulation, but crossing genre-wise out from the clear vocal free improvisation and avant-garde scene, are for example Holly Herndon and her laptop based compositions and use of the vocal processing. She is getting closer to the “beat oriented” electronic music, where also the work of “Herbert” has been a long lasting influence on me. Interesting modular synth composers/ players/ musicians worth mentioning are for example Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. Aubrey Lowe’s album “Psychic Nature of Being” has been an inspiring three-track album recorded as a one-time improvisation without overdubbing. I could go on with the list of influences forever, but I’ll stick to these few examples for now just to feature a broad field of influences in my work.

I am on the constant move with the electronic setting and researching different tools to realize the music and feed the feedback loop that I constantly get when playing/ singing with my current electronic set-up. Although in making of the Koan I was just taking the first steps at my electronic music making, I could already in this process feel the freedom that the use of electronics is capable; Orchestrating possibilities and expanding the space as a vocalist, being able to create new, still non-existent sounds, customize my own sounds and so forth.

Also, at the end the final sound result in the album is often non-recognizable from the first sound source the voice, but still, the intention, the rhythm, intensity, the placement of the sound in the whole sound picture is somehow “embodied”. I used electronics and field recordings for breaking up or adding up to the vocal universe.