Joan La Barbara

Joan La Barbara's (b. June 8, 1947 in Philadelphia) career as a composer, performer and sound artist has been devoted to exploring the human voice as a multi-faceted instrument, going far beyond its traditional boundaries, creating works for voices, instruments and interactive technology. "One of the great vocal virtuosas of our time" (San Francisco Examiner) and an important pioneer in the field of contemporary classical music and soundart, she developed a unique vocabulary of experimental and extended vocal techniques, including multiphonics (the simultaneous sounding of two or more pitches), circular singing, ululation and glottal clicks that have become her "signature" sounds.

Awards and fellowships include National Endowment for the Arts, Meet The Composer, ASCAP, ISCM International Jury Award, Akustische International Competition Award and Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Berliner Kunsterprogramm Composer-in-Residency, as well as numerous commissions for concert, theatre and radio works in American and Europe. Concertizing worldwide, she has appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Houston Symphony, New World Symphony, Women's Philharmonic, Orchestra of The Hague, Festival d'Automne a Paris, Warsaw Autumn Festival, Frankfurt Feste, Metamusik-Berlin, Olympics Arts Festival, Brisbane Biennial, LA Festival and the American Music Theatre Festival.

She has produced seven recordings of her own work, served as producer on recordings of music by John Cage and Morton Feldman and has premiered landmark compositions written for her by noted American composers, including Robert Ashley, Larry Austin, John Cage, Rhys Chatham, Charles Dodge, Morton Feldman, Philip Glass, Daniel Lentz, Mel Powell, Steve Reich, Roger Reynolds, Morton Subotnick and James Tenney.

La Barbara has collaborated on interdisciplinary projects with various visual artists, including Lita Albuquerque, Judy Chicago, Kenneth Goldsmith, Steina and Woody Vasulka, and has completed two Meet The Composer/Reader's Digest commissions from The Gregg Smith Singers, I Cantori and The Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe for a large-scale choral work, to hear the wind roar, and a collaborative interdisciplinary music-theatre piece with co-composers Morton Subotnick and Mark Coniglio, The Misfortune of the Immortals, utilizing interactive computer technology with live performers. Other recent commissions include a chamber ensemble piece, Awakenings from the University of Iowa; two radioworks: a sonic self-portrait, In the Dreamtime, and a sound painting of Cologne, Klangbild Koln, from the WestDeutscher Rundfunk-Koln; in the shadow and act of the haunting place for voice and chamber ensemble for San Francisco Contempary Music Players and Calligraphy II/Shadows for voice and Chinese instruments for Nal-Ni Chen Dance Company. Newest release: 73 Poems, a collaboration with visual/text artist Kenneth Goldsmith, an edition of prints, book and CD issued by Permanent Press and Lovely Music.

Her works have been choreographed by John Alleyne for Ballet British Columbia, Martha Curtis, Catherine Kerr and Merce Cunningham ("Events"). In 1991, she composed a filmscore for "Anima", Elizabeth Harris Productions, scored for voices, middle-eastern drums, handheld percussion, cello, gamelan, keyboard synthesizers, computer and electronics. Previous filmwork includes a setting for voice with electronics for Steve Finkin's animation of the signing alphabet for "Children's Television Workshop/Sesame Street" to assist hearing children in learning to communicate with the deaf, broadcast worldwide since 1977; music for films by Richard Blau, Monica Gazzo, Elyse Rosenberg and Steven Subotnick; and composing and performing the Angel Voice for actress Emmannuelle Beart in the feature film "Date with an Angel". Her current recording projects as singer, composer and/or producer include Voice and Instruments by Morton Feldman (for New Albion), John Cage at Summerstage with Joan La Barbara, Leonard Stein and William Winant, which includes Cage's final concert performance on July 23, 1992 in NYC's Central Park, and La Barbara's own works (for Music & Arts).Soprano La Barbara premiered Morton Subotnick's opera Jacob's Room directed by Herbert Blau for the American Music Theatre Festival, New York premiere at The Kitchen and European premiere at MANCA Festival in Nice (1993-94) and premiered Robert Ashley's quartet of operas Now Eleanor's Idea (1994). La Barbara was educated at Syracuse and New York Universities, studying with Helen Boatwright, Phyllis Curtin and Marian Szekeley-Freschi. She gives workshops on extended vocal techniques and composition world wide; taught on the faculty of California Institute of the Arts (1981-86); served as Vice President of the American Music Center until 1993; co-Artistic Director of the New Music American Festival in Los Angeles (1985) and produces and co-hosts a weekly radio program, "Other Voices, Other Sounds."


Joan La Barbara as a performer in works by other composers' works: