Recoding the Voice: Experimental Singing After “Extended Vocal Techniques” in the Electroacoustic Performance of Pamela Z

In the decades following World War II, exponential growth in the possibilities offered by sound technology captured the imagination of many composers. Radical experimentation in sonic phenomena not only generated new electronically-derived sounds, but also initiated a wide-spread interest in re-examining the potential of the human voice. The quest to discover and catalogue the “extended” capabilities of the voice beyond its classical construction—exemplified by the early work of Joan La Barbara and the interdisciplinary research of the Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble—shaped the trajectory of experimental vocal music.

These electronically-assisted explorations of the human voice eventually ossified into an “experimental” vocal repertoire, often labeled “extended vocal techniques,” that in both name and practice affirm an ontological distinction between “voice” and “machine.” However, Bay Area performer-composer Pamela Z issues a significant challenge to this distinction. This project surveys Z’s compositions for voice and live electronics as well as her expository writing on her own work, with a focus on her examination of the voice’s network of interconnected processes through electroacoustic performance. Using live sampling and delays, Z fragments her voice and highlights the often-unnoticed constituent sounds of vocal production. Reading the voice’s network of connected information systems as part of a technological continuum, I suggest that the inextricability of bodily and electronic processes in Z’s vocal practice frames the “voice” as an interaction between systems both inside and outside the body. By recoding the voice, Z expands the scope of vocal experimentalism and reconsiders the nature of the singing voice itself.

Charissa Noble is a vocalist and Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Musicology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Ms. Noble has a background as an opera singer, composer and music theorist, and later earned a Master’s degree in Musicology at San Diego State University with a secondary emphasis in 20th Century American Art. Her research interests include twentieth-century experimental vocal techniques, electronic music, and performance art. In the past year, she has interviewed Bay-Area multimedia performance artist Pamela Z and studied voice with composer Meredith Monk. Charissa has presented at conferences such as the 2017 International Society for Minimalist Music and the 2017 national meeting of the Society for American Music. She is also deeply committed to public musicology, delivering preconcert talks for San Diego New Music and presenting public lectures at the San Diego Museum of Art, the Athenaeum Music and Art Library, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.