20 Mar 2024

The Voice is the Instrument

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Elaine Mitchener & Joan La Barbara explore the voice as a sound producing instrument

The voice is something we all have and yet rarely do we explore the full range of our instrument. Ahead of Assembly at Somerset House we talk to two vocal artists who stretch the capacities of the voice as a sound producing instrument to look at the ways the voice can channel meaning without words; voice artist and composer Elaine Mitchener, who is resident at Somerset House Studios; and the pioneer of Extended Vocal Technique, the renowned vocal artist and composer Joan La Barbara.

Elaine’s vocal work looks at ways of speaking beyond language and explores moments of historical injustice through vocalisation and movement. In her piece for Assembly, 'These Cost The Earth', she explores the dynamics of waste consumerism, in particular the environmental and human impact of the clothes we send to landfill. She uses the stairwell at Somerset House as the site for a choreographed piece which articulates this destructive cycle, giving life to old clothes and evoking the journeys they have been on.

The groundbreaking vocalist Joan La Barbara is one of the first artists to play with extended vocal technique, a technique which uses the voice as a sound producing instrument. As a performer she has worked with Cage, Feldman, Reich and Glass and as a composer and improviser she has been writing her own material since the 1970s. As one of the early pioneers of this form of vocal experimentation, we hear as Joan unpacks how she developed her instrument, her work with imaginary language and the idea of super presence in relation to performance.


    Commissioned by:

    Somerset House Studios


    Alannah Chance


    Eleanor Ritter-Scott

    Series Composer:

    Felicia Atkinson


    Harry Murdoch

Supported by

PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund for Organisations, John S Cohen Foundation, Kitmapper, The Wire Magazine and Goethe Institute London.

Not Strictly Speaking Series

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A three-part podcast series exploring different manifestations of the voice, produced in conjunction with Somerset House Studios' Assembly.