"Joan La Barbara - a legendary composer and vocalist who can sing in two or more pitches simultaneously - was by far, one of the biggest inspirations at RBMATL this year. Her sit down interview with Aaron Gonsher, which was a run down of her career as an extremely experimental singer, songwriter and composer (she began doing recordings of what she calls 'Sound Paintings',) connected artist/participant Sign Libra to La Barbara's process. La Barbara hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is 69-years-old and has recorded more than 12 albums. In contrast, emerging artist Sign Libra (real name Agata Melnikova), who is a native of Latvia, is just starting out and has released several tracks on soundcloud and bandcamp. Despite the age and experience gap, 20-something Melnikova felt deeply connected to La Barbara. I couldn't believe how much I could relate to her. I felt like seeing her was like seeing more possibilities, Melnikova said. "She's almost 70 years old and has been able to do this for so long and she's still inspired, which inspires me," Melnikova added. "I could relate to what she was talking about when she got into her thoughts on nature and when she talked about how tree branches were like notes. Its comforting to know she sees nature as part of the puzzle of music, she said. "Two of my own tracks trying to [musically] translate the tongue of the chameleon and the bee getting pollen from a flower. Her work makes me want to do more, create more and watch BBC wild doc's again to find that symbolism."
Fashion Magazine on RBMA, Oct 27 2016.
Press about La Barbara's performance of Morton Feldman's "Three Voices"
Interview with RBMA
Video (non-US only)
Review of Voice is the Original Instrument - The Wire
London Jazz News
Review of Cafe OTO Performance:
Frieze Magazine, Q & A
From Classicalite.com, Q & A article about the upcoming Avant Festival:
Avant Festival 2016
Q2 Music, the online site of the classical radio stations WQXR and WNYC, produced the following interview for their "Spaces" project:
Spaces: Joan La Barbara and Morton Subotnick
"35 years after its release, Tapesongs remains one of the most stunning albums in Joan La Barbara's discography. No mean feat, given that every album La Barbara has released stands as a powerful testament to the capabilities of the human voice as not only the "original instrument," as she asserts on another album, but also the best instrument"
WFMU, Beware of the Blog, January 20, 2012
Read the Full Article
"In 2009 (Christian) Marclay invited Joan La Barbara to perform a work for solo vocalist, Manga Scroll. He speaks of her with a note of awe - "She's like the queen of vocal experimentation".
David Toop, The Wire, August 25, 2011.4
"The work of Joan La Barbara – a thinking person's vocalist and one of the world's pre-eminent Cage champions – makes essential listening. (Re: La Barbara's Singing Through (New Albion NA035) In this mostly a cappella collection, she deploys luminous, pitch-perfect tone in texts from sources as diverse as Henry David Thoreau, James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, and the Bible. The nine brief sections of Sonnekus (1985) are interrupted by three cabaret songs by Satie. And crickets lurk in the background of Song No. 67 (1970), with La Barbara going from guttural lunges to a yappy bark, to which a construction site pile driver adds a deadpan counterpoint.
Bruce Hodges, Discoveries, December 2011, Vol. XXVII No. 4
"When Joan performs solo, she creates her own world of music and sound. It's like magic. She's pretty much the Houdini of new music."
Richard Kessler, Dewey 21C, March 14 2011.
Where ideas generated by television and newsprint and blogs can readily fade, the arts have eloquence and power. Pundits could not match the visceral embrace of An American Rendition, a dance-theater piece by Jane Comfort and Joan La Barbara that draws audiences into the interplay of government torture and "reality" television. The live performance is riveting.
Cindy Cooper, Blog 30, Jan 12 2012.
"Joan La Barbara's "Storefront Diva" (phase one) was performed by Kathleen Supové, with sets and costumes by Marija Plavsic and video installation by Aleksandar Kostic at 159 Bleecker St, NYC on December 27th, 2011. "Storefront Diva" was inspired by one of Joseph Cornell's dreams in which he described seeing Debussy playing piano in a store, through the window. During the 4-hour performance, Supové performed sections of La Barbara's new work for piano, along with fragments of Debussy's Prelude, Book 1, No. 6 (... Des pas sur la neige )."
Lori Greenberg, Bowery Boogie, Dec 30 2011.
"I was most entranced by "Persistence of Memory," a work by Joan La Barbara, an acclaimed composer, performer and sound artist who is known for her experimental vocal techniques. "Persistence of Memory" featured two violins, a cello, a viola, a harp, vocal work, electronics, a piano and a trombone. The work was jarring. As a listener, I was tossed back and forth between sharp rhythms and thrashing percussive sounds. The sounds seemed to sneak up on me when I was least expecting it. But it was new and exhilarating nonetheless."
Lauren Nicole Nixon, Her Circle, Dec 21 2011.
"The highlight of the evening was Joan La Barbara's "In solitude this fear is lived" which combined her onstage vocals with live electronics and elusive fragments from members of the orchestra positioned among the audience members. It all resulted in an eerie, melancholic soundscape."
Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, Tuesday, Sept 29 2010
"And it's the melding of Cage's Fontana Mix (rendered by David Behrman, John King, and Takehisa Kosugi) with the composer's Aria, delivered by Joan La Barbara, that creates an atmosphere suggestive of the Tower of Babel toppling amid shards of language. La Barbara is a phenomenon. Her voice creaks, caws, laughs, floats into melody, spits phrases out into the shifting rumble that the other musicians are building. The dancers smile at times. Who's afraid of such a witty sorceress? Even though she's temporarily presiding over a company whose lifespan is now limited."
Deborah Jowitt, The Village Voice, Wednesday, Oct 6 2010
"And Joan La Barbara delivered the ultra-diverse vocalizations of Cage's "Aria" -- song, speech, bird calls, mechanical noises -- with astonishing and virtuoso precision."
Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times, Thursday, September 29, 2010
"Joan La Barbara has brought her adventures on American contemporary music's wildest frontiers, while her own compositions and shamanistic 'sound paintings' place the soprano voice at the outer limits of human experience". For full article click here.
Julian Cowley, The Wire Magazine, March 2009
"His & Hers music production studios are what experimental vocalist/chanteuse/composer Joan La Barbara and her husband, electronic music founding father Morton Subotnick have in their digs in the heart of Greenwich Village, home to a friendly old dog, an occasionally talkative parrot and separate-but-equal studios that allow these two musical pioneers to get wired, inspired and collaborate as needed". For full article click here.
David Weiss, Mix Magazine's N.Y. Metro Report, July 2008
"Messa Di Voce took the antiquated concept of madrigalism, or word painting, to its technological extreme: by blending synaesthesia and interactive communication between performers and software, and by using extremely sophisticated modules that projected cartoonish, poignant and spectacular images, Messa delivered an icono-choreography of immense precision." For full article click - > here
The WIRE Magazine #303, May 2009 (Stefanos Tsigrimanis)
"La Barbara is a superb singer and an astute musician."
Pasatiempo/The New Mexican, May 4-10, 2001 (Craig Smith)
"Though her music is strange, it is also wondrous; it is put together with such unfailing imagination and unusual beauty that you listen to it in a kind of composer-induced haze, mesmerized. La Barbara's music uses the human voice - hers - as its starting point and from there forges an entire sound world by use of extended vocal techniques, interaction with multi-track tape and spare doses of live electronics for good measure. It is, in a sense, the musical equivalent of sci-fi. La Barbara's technique alone amazed: At one point, she produced multiphonics, creating a kind of chord with her single voice; at another, she dispatched a vivace sequence of yodels."
The Orange County Register, April 30, 1999 (Timothy Mangan)
"Joan La Barbara is so well known to new-music audiences as a sympathetic performer of Cage, Feldman, Ashley, et al. that is it possible to forget that she has a considerable career as a composer in her own right. As a performer, her folklike sound in the context of highly composed and frequently complex music has been prized by the composers mentioned. Her performances, while obviously carefully prepared and performed, have a spontaneity and variety of sound more traditionally oriented vocalists sometimes lack, something that makes the works written for her uniquely hers. Here (referring to La Barbara's "ShamanSong, Rothko and Calligraphy II/Shadows" on New World Records 80545-2), as composer and performer, the works focus in even more tightly on her unique perspectives and views on music. Although one can hear echoes of her close friends and associates, Cage and Feldman, the music she creates for herself remains firmly her own."
Fanfare, July/August 1999 (John Story)
"When the voice's haunted lilting ceases, a tambour suddenly pulses, and then the voice re-enters, this time in a hair-raising, disembodied cackle that chatters into the air. The otherworldly vocalizations come at a core moment in the title piece of ShamanSong, a new compact-disk recording by Joan La Barbara. The imagination behind them - and the truly stunning voice that produced them - have made Ms. La Barbara an extraordinary resource to some of the premier American composers of the 20th century. She has risen to the highest ranks in contemporary music by developing, over 25 years, a set of "extended vocal techniques" that classical singers before her had not thought to refine and incorporate. Using such techniques as multiphonics (sounding more than one pitch at once), circular singing (producing unbroken sound even while inhaling), glottal clicks, and ululation, she creates often-haunting, always-transporting sonic fabric. What most sets Ms. La Barbara apart is her conception of the voice as not so much a vehicle for lyrics or for the conventional sounds of opera or classical recital, but as an instrument in its own right."
The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 29, 1999 (Peter Monaghan)
"Unlike many singers specializing in contemporary music, Joan la Barbara has a genuinely beautiful voice. She is also a prolific composer, having pioneered a style of vocal writing in which live voice is super-imposed on recorded tracks. She has inspired a large body of work, including outright masterpieces by Morton Feldman and Robert Ashley."
The New York Times, March 11, 1996 (Alex Ross)
"You might have thought she was sounding in tongues or gurgling underwater, or crying for help from a cannibal's pot, or any number of things. It didn't matter. It was her sound and the audience came to it. Her sense of pitch was impeccable, her creative instinct quite singular."
The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, Australia, June 1, 1995 (Patricia Kelly)
"This soprano's place in contemporary American music, long significant, impinges now on the legendary."
Fanfare, May/June 1991 (Mike Silverton)
"The amazing variety of La Barbara's many voices, and her uncanny control over them, are reasons enough to admire this diva of the avant-garde, but her great musicality is the reason to listen."
The Milwaukee Journal, January 21, 1991 (Tom Strini)
"In both pieces ("October Music" and "Vlissingen Harbor") texture and timbre are the things. La Barbara stacks up little figures into textures that sound, at first, like a pile of ostinatos. Close listening, however, reveals that details within the mass are constantly mutating. This advancement does not so much suggest evolution as the omnipresent vibration, the shimmering, of life."
The Milwaukee Journal, January 21, 1991 (Tom Strini)
"La Barbara is Feldman's spiritual twin. Over the course of the last two decades, including a few years with Philip Glass and Steve Reich, she's created a purely vocal music remarkable for its subtlety, restraint, and Zen balance. Her own compositions are textured, almost psychological journeys of multi-tracked, layered vocals that make use of her extended vocal techniques."
Digital Audio's CD Review, October 1989 (John Diliberto)
"La Barbara, one of the great vocal virtuosas of our time"
San Francisco Examiner, April 21, 1989 (Allan Ulrich)
"One of the most interesting experimental composers today is Joan La Barbara. This young woman first caught the world's attention over 10 years ago when she began composing for and singing "multiphonics' - singing two or three notes at the same time. Since then she has explored and experimented with the human voice from every possible angle and can imitate almost any human, animal, instrumental, or electronic sound. This unique vocal talent has inspired many modern composers to write for her. One of the best of these works is composer Morton Feldman's startling and haunting "Three Voices."
"Sonic animation" is the term La Barbara uses to describe her music. And it is very apropos - for the joy, wit, and delight with which she chooses her sounds, and the convincing depth of her musical world is fascinating, optimistic, and refreshing."
Elle, March 1989 (Bunita Marcus)
About La Barbara's filmwork:
"La Barbara flew to Los Angeles to record the voice of the baby alien on a movie sound stage. She watched relevant segments of the film and, with the director (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) and sound designer (Leslie Schatz), discussed ideas about the character's emotional life and intended audience impact. The script allowed a full range of feelings for La Barbara to portray: playfulness, terror and love. One of the most important factors in designing the voice was the alien's anatomy.
'We talked about the shape of the alien's face and head, ' La Barbara said. 'For example, it doesn't have lips. That would affect sound; it can't create lip articulation. It does have a jaw and a fabulous tongue. When I looked at the creature, I was trying to analyze what kind of sound it could potentially make, based on the bony structure of the head.'
When recording began, La Barbara tried vocalizing with each inhaled breath. This insured she wouldn't accidentally use her lips and, because she couldn't completely control her voice, she produced bizarre sounds.
The final scene of the film ('that horrible scene of the alien newborn being sucked out of the window of the spaceship') was the toughest, La Barbara said. She tried recording it in segments, but that didn't seem to be working, so she suggested trying it in one uninterrupted take.
'I did all this inhaling and exhaling, no stopping for breath,' she said. 'It was difficult, but it gave me the kind of energy I needed to make that shot effective. When I got one, the sound designer and engineer said, 'That's it.'"
Pasatiempo/The New Mexican, February 27, 1998 (Dottie Indyke)
About "73 Poems":
"Her magnum opus is "73 Poems" with a text by Kenneth Goldsmith. The 50-minute work for amplified voice, live electronics and tape is a set of 79 miniatures, most short and haiku-like, several a minute or so in length. There is humor in "73 Poems" from the mere connection of disparate words in rhyme ... but generally, the tone is serious and vaguely ominous. Vast stretches are given over to the recitation and overtone-rich manipulation of letters, numbers and meaningless dates. A brave and fascinating evening of music from one of our boldest sound inventors."
The Orange County Register, April 30, 1999 (Timothy Mangan)
"La Barbara's voice can be coated with gauzy ambiance; it also has the uncommon ability to take a metaphor and stretch it so ridiculously far that it's no longer a metaphor but a vivid waking dream.
Throughout, La Barbara paid careful attention to how one poem flowed into the next, as well as the dramatic shifts taking place in the course of the mysterious journey. For example, the zeroes occupying the central portion were represented by notes so close together as to convey the aural illusion of one set growing from another. Taken together, Goldsmith's text and La Barbara's vocals coalesce in a dimension of depth, a union of parts that's ostensibly simple and repetitive yet capable of evoking complex emotional responses.
Seemingly connected and disconnected, 73 Poems unleashes a fully fleshed word portrait of modern life."
Houston Press, March 23-29, 1995 (Susie Kalil)
"Words are sung, spoken, layered, microtonally configured, and otherwise laid on the line on 73 Poems (Lovely), a strangely compelling collaboration between poet Kenneth Goldsmith's words and Joan La Barbara's sounds.
What results is a haunting paradox, a richly textured, even Joycean fountain of language that unfolds with a hypnotic calmness. The English tongue rarely sounded so exoticized, refreshed. La Barbara's treatments are just that: treatments, reworkings, independently inventive concepts in which her repertoire of vocal and studio techniques perfectly enhance the text.
Something of John Cage's sly ruminative spirit hovers over the project, as well. On this wonderful setting, space breath, and cool understatement reign."
Jazziz, December 1994
"Some of the poem-drawings fairly glow with sexuality, as do some of La Barbara's interpretations. As a composer and performance artist, the soprano is in a class of her own. La Barbara is simply brilliant! A personal favorite, number 45, a sonically unpromising arrangement of zeros and ones, sounds like an incantation at the far end of a Tibetan nightmare. I don't exaggerate, nor do I select a particularly outstanding track --- everything here is really quite remarkable. This one goes on the Want List."
Fanfare, September/October 1994 (Mike Silverton)
"When he finished writing the poems, Goldsmith gave them to Joan La Barbara 'to do with what she pleased.' La Barbara, who had made numerous recordings with Cage, has developed an extended vocabulary of vocal sounds that range from traditional song to a wild assortment of glottal clicks and stops, inhaled notes, or overtone chant.
The result is emphatically not just another instance of setting poems to music. 73 Poems heralds a new direction in a poetry, planned and composed on the computer terminal, executed as a word painting, and animated by vocalization on CD. It brings the 'poetry reading' into the living room (or wherever else one happens to find oneself with a CD player), making space new. An unusually happy marriage of art and technology."
Sulfur, Fall 1994 (Marjorie Perloff)
"73 Poems, a collaboration between Kenneth Goldsmith and Joan La Barbara, presented the living legacy of contradiction resolved in some of the same ways Cage addressed the problematic: presence within an aesthetic of absence, each component self-aware of its own integrity because it also demonstrated what was missing.
La Barbara's unique vocal ability sculpted monolithic equivalents of dense text, interspersed with microtones and the fullness of voids whose presence belied the aural illusion."
New Art Examiner, Summer 1993 (Rich Leslie)
About La Barbara's performance of Morton Feldman's "Three Voices":
' "When Morty Met John," Carnegie Hall's continuing festival of music by Cage and Morton Feldman ... included a transfixing account by the vocalist Joan La Barbara of Feldman's 1982 "Three Voices". In this work, 90 minutes of the softest gentlest music imaginable Ms. La Barbara in effect sings trios with herself, that is with the taped sounds of her voice artfully manipulated by Feldman and played through two loudspeakers. This is an incantatory score of overlapping drones, quietly pungent harmonies and bits of melody sung in slightly odd parallel intervals. It was beautifully, and tirelessly, performed by Ms. La Barbara.'
The New York Times, April 17, 2002 (Anthony Tommasini)
' "Three Voices," for solo voice singing alongside two taped vocal tracks, is sensuous and pristine; it begins with unearthly, chromatically shifting vocalize, but lines from a Frank O'Hara poem eventually emerge in a melodic line that sways like a lullaby. Ms. La Barbara, for whom the piece was written, combined great beauty of tone with total rhythmic concentration.'
The New York Times, August 6, 1996 (Alex Ross)
' "Three Voices" is like late Strauss at his most lush stopped in time. La Barbara ... has such vocal presence that she made several avant-gardists blush guiltily afterward for having succumbed to that much sheer beauty.'
Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1996 (Mark Swed)
"La Barbara's voice (in triplicate) has the freshness and clarity of a frosty morning ... her singing conceals a formidable techniques; there can't be many more terrifying works to perform live. I could easily understand if this record were to achieve the status of a cult object."
Gramophone, December 1990 (John Milsom)
"Three Voices for Joan La Barbara deftly merges two distinct but like minded artists: the recently deceased composer, Morton Feldman, and the brilliant vocalist/composer, Joan La Barbara. Feldman, a contemporary of John Cage, wrote compositions of serene, delicate, and translucent depths. He was a Mark Rothko of sound who composed in muted, shifting sonic colors. Three Voices has a purity of sound, ... an enveloping and intricate sonic architecture. 10 for Performance/10 for Sound Quality"
Digital Audio's CD Review, October 1989 (John Diliberto)
"Concentrated on chromatic scale fragments for unprecedented periods of time, Three Voices is one of the most demanding vocal works ever written, and in bringing it off with such perfect consistency of timing, intensity, and tuning, La Barbara has given us a stunning achievement.
Fanfare, July/August 1989 (Kyle Gann)
About La Barbara singing Cage:
"La Barbara's "Solo for Voice 45" is one of the most beautiful, delicate renditions of Cage ever recorded. Hearing La Barbara sing unaccompanied is already a mind–blowing experience. For anyone who sings, hearing La Barbara perform is either the most inspiring or discouraging experience ever – her voice simply cannot be imitated, let alone bested. The multiple channel layering of the piece creates the illusion of an entire chorus of La Barbaras; her voice is the best accompaniment to her own voice, you realize. Each phrase La Barbara sings is incredibly precise yet emotive. She renders a song as difficult and complex as "Solo" warm and exciting.
La Barbara also, better than any other vocalists, reminds the listener of just how playful a piece such as "Solo for Voice 45" can be. You can't help but grin as you listen to the piece (and then listen to it again, and again – it's hard to listen to "Solo" just once). Cage's pieces are as much "composed" by the performer as they are by Cage himself, and in La Barbara, an incredibly talented composer herself, he finds a perfect musician to interpret and realize the piece. The only true downside to La Barbara's piece is that it spoils the listener to the point that any other realization of this piece will be a tremendous disappointment – La Barbara's 1977 "Solo for Voice 45" is, and should remain, the immortalized, definitive recording."
WFMU, Beware of the Blog, January 20, 2012
Read the Full Article
"Ms. La Barbara, without the slightest fuss, sang and hummed Cage's vocal music, making me believe I'd always known it."
The Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2001 (Greg Sandow)
"Joan La Barbara has a quality as a performer that goes beyond her renowned extended vocal techniques: genuine intimacy. There is something inviting about her voice and the way she shapes Cage's sounds; you feel let in on a secret, even if you don't know exactly what it is. And especially in the Whiskus, she effortlessly slips from one word fragment to another, making it sound like a perfectly natural monolog."
Fanfare, January/February 1996 (Robert Carl)