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Joan La Barbara Joins PSNY

(Joan La Barbara; photo credit: Aleksandar Kostic)

Joan La Barbara
knows what it means to sing. And in the process of singing over the past forty years, she has redefined the possibilities of the term itself. Using her voice as an instrument, she has developed a vocal style that transcends convention, extending the technology of her voice to wildly new places of discovery and creativity. Since the early 1970s, La Barbara has been composing and performing works for her own voice and other collaborators: electronics, video, environments, dancers, synthesizers, and instruments. Each of these works blends the singularity of her voice with the wider world of sound.

PSNY is honored to publish four works by La Barbara that span several decades of her career. These highly evocative and unique works range in instrumentation from solo violin to chamber ensemble, but all involve La Barbara's voice in some way or another—either her compositional voice or in her scoring for live human voice.

This is perhaps easiest to hear in her work in the shadow and act of the haunting place (1995), for voice and chamber ensemble, which La Barbara calls a "sound painting in the style of some of my multi-track vocal works." This work sees La Barbara's extended vocal techniques translated to instruments—an act which La Barbara says evokes "moments of mystery and strange beauty with some hints of danger."

This work served as a model for a larger composition for the Nai-Ni Dance Company, titled Calligraphy II/Shadows, where several of the Western instruments were exchanged for close equivalents in the Chinese classical tradition.  

 La Barbara's talent for translation is also shown in Vlissingen Harbor (1982), a composition that evokes her time spent in the seaport village of Vlissingen in southern Holland. Scored for voice and ensemble, this piece reimagines the harbor soundscape in an instrumental realization, calling on all eight players to use their breath to evoke the sonic seascape.

Flash! (2005), a virtuoso piece for solo violin, again translates the composer's voice into the language of string instruments, evoking the thrilling potentialities of the solo violin in the tradition of film scoring. Challenging the performer to keep up with the score, Flash! is a showstopping piece that extends instrumental technique in the service of extending our sonic imaginations of what a violin is capable of. 

We look forward to publishing more works by Joan La Barbara in the near future, so stay tuned!

Kate Soper Wins Virgil Thomson Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters; "Here Be Sirens" now on PSNY

Kate Soper
, known for her cutting-edge vocal works that fuse together voice, instruments, and text, has just won the second ever Virgil Thomson Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. First given in 2014, this award "recognizes an American composer of vocal works," and is endowed by the Virgil Thomson Foundation. True to the award's namesake, Soper continues Thomson's tradition of radically new vocal music, her texted works echoing Thomson's avant-garde compositions such as Four Saints in Three Acts, with a libretto by Gertrude Stein. 

In announcing the award, composer and Academy member John Harbison writes of Soper:

Soper's vocal music is bold, varied, and forward-looking. Its advanced qualities are never dutifully or modishly present, but stem from a rich exploration of Voice, answering many imperatives—theatrical, textual, technological, social. There is joy, wit, shock, and allure in her pieces, all grounded by something meticulous and exacting.

(excerpt from Soper's Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say)

Perhaps most well-known of Soper's vocal works is her opera, Here Be Sirens, which follows the daily lives of three sirens on their well-trafficked island. First premiered in 2014, this work ranges from "ethereal medieval chant, gentle otherworldly melody, and the terror of the sublime"—what the Wall Street Journal calls "audacious, genre-bending music theatre" and The New Yorker hails as "an erudite, hilarious, furiously inventive meditation on the siren myth."

And now, Here Be Sirens, as well as a suite taken from the opera, are available via PSNY. In Soper's words, the Suite "presents an exquisite corpse-like portrait of these beloved and familiar monsters in all their murderous and irresistable glory."

Check out some excerpts from the opera below. 

New Works by Ann Cleare

PSNY is happy to announce that two new works by Ann Cleare, one of which is in two arrangements, are newly available this week on PSNY.

Cleare's work has often explored concepts of presence, becoming, and immanence, dwelling in sound-worlds made manifest by her maserful use of instruments and electronics. Cleare's Inner, in a new version for violin and piano, "probes the subcutaneous space within sound", positing sound as a body with porous boundaries. Inspired by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, Cleare writes: "the internal is given a multidimensional quality, fragmenting the outer surface", a metaphor for her compositional interplay between instruments and sound. 

(page 1 from Inner

In Cleare's On Magnetic Fields, the ensemble is split up spatially and sonically on stage: two "whirling" ensembles, featuring violins, flank the left and right sides, while a separate ensemble of harp, piano, and percussion creates a "box of light" in the center. We have published both this version for full ensemble, as well as a version for two violins and loudspeaker. The interplay between the two magnetically-charged ensembles on either side and the "piercing, alien light" of the center ensemble forms the basis of the composition. Check out a recording excerpt below. 

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