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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!

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