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Joan La Barbara


JOAN LA BARBARA’s career as a composer/performer/soundartist explores the human voice as a multi-faceted instrument expanding traditional boundaries in developing a unique vocabulary of experimental and extended vocal techniques: multiphonics, circular singing, ululation and glottal clicks that have become her "signature sounds". In 2008, La Barbara was awarded the American Music Center's Letter of Distinction for significant contributions to the field of contemporary American music. Creating works for multiple voices, chamber ensembles, music theater, orchestra and interactive technology, her awards in the U.S. and Europe include: 2016 John Cage Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts; 2013 Civitella Ranieri Fellowship; 2011 Premio Internzionale "Demetrio Stratos" Per la sperimentazione musicale; 2004 Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition; DAAD Artist-in-Residency in Berlin and 7 National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in Music Composition, Opera/Music Theatre, Inter-Arts, Recording (2), Solo Recitalist and Visual Arts; ISCM International Jury Award; Akustische International Competition Award; Aaron Copland Fund for Music; Foundation for Contemporary Arts; Collaboration Award of NY Coalition of Professional Women in the Arts and Media; Meet The Composer and ASCAP Awards. Numerous commissions for concert, theatre and radioworks, including: "in the dreamtime" and "Klangbild Köln" for WestDeutscher Rundfunk, Cologne; "Dragons on the Wall", a music score commissioned by Mary Flagler Cary Trust and "Calligraphy II/Shadows" for voice and Chinese instruments, both for Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company; choral work "to hear the wind roar"for Gregg Smith Singers, I Cantori and the Center for Contemporary Arts/Santa Fe,; "Events in the Elsewhere" from "The Misfortune of the Immortals", funded by Meet the Composer/Lila Wallace; "Awakenings" for chamber ensemble, from the University of Iowa Center for New Music; "l'albero dalle foglie azzurre" (tree of blue leaves) for solo oboe and tape, commissioned by The Saint Louis Symphony, and "A Trail of Indeterminate Light" for cellist who sings. "73 Poems", her collaborative work with text artist Kenneth Goldsmith, was included in "The American Century Part II: SoundWorks" at The Whitney Museum of American Art. "Messa di Voce", an interactive media work, in collaboration with Jaap Blonk, Golan Levin and Zachary Lieberman, premiered at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria on September 7, 2003 and was awarded Honorary Mention in the 2004 Prix Ars Electronica. Live Music for Dance commissions include "Landscape over Zero" (2004-05 for Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company), "Fleeting Thoughts" (2005-06 for Jane Comfort & Company), and "Desert Myths/Isle of Dunes" (premiered at NJPAC April 29, 2006 featuring Ne(x)tworks and Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company). "Atmos" for flute and sonic atmosphere, commissioned by Meet The Composer/NYSFM, premiered March 2008 at Symphony Space, performed by Margaret Lancaster; recording was released on "Io", for New World Records in 2009. In 2007-08, La Barbara received a NYSCA Music Composition award to compose a new spoken word opera,/politial dance theatre work "An American Rendition", in collaboration with choreographer/theater artist Jane Comfort, which premiered September 2008 at Duke Theatre, NYC."Angels, Demons and Other Muses" placing the musicians of Ne(x)tworks within the audience, was presented on the Interpretations Series at Roulette in April 2010. "in Solitude this fear is lived...", a sound painting for amplified voice, orchestra and "sonic atmosphere" inspired by the minimalist work of Agnes Martin, placed the musicians of the American Composers Orchestra around and in the audience, premiering in March 2011 at Carnegie's Zankel Hall. "Journeys and Observable Events", placing musicians and actors in the many rooms of Greenwich House Music School, and allowing each audience member to create an individual experience traveling through the building, premiered May 6, 2011. Phase One of "Storefront Diva" a new work for pianist Kathleen Supové in a theatrical environment, premiered at a pop-up store at 159 Bleecker in Greenwich Village on December 27, 2011; "Storefront Diva: a dreamscape", the subsequent phase of this work premiered April 2013 as part of "Digital Debussy" project at The Flea Theater in Tribeca. La Barbara's new chamber ensemble work "Persistence of Memory" premiered at The Kitchen in December 2011; an expanded version with complementary film by Aleksandar Kostic, premiered at MaerzMusik in Berlin March 17, 2012, along with her new production of John Cage's "Song Books". La Barbara is composing a new opera reflecting on the artistic process and sounds within the mind.

La Barbara has collaborated with artists including Lita Albuquerque, Matthew Barney, Cathey Billian, Melody Sumner Carnahan, Judy Chicago, Ed Emshwiller, Kenneth Goldsmith, Peter Gordon, Christian Marclay, Bruce Nauman, Steina, Woody Vasulka and Lawrence Weiner. In the early part of her career, she performed and recorded with Steve Reich, Philip Glass and jazz artists Jim Hall, Hubert Laws, Enrico Rava and arranger Don Sebesky, developing her own unique vocal/instrumental sound. Hailed as "one of the great vocal virtuosas of our time"(San Francisco Examiner), she premiered landmark compositions written for her by noted American composers, including Morton Feldman's "Three Voices"; Morton Subotnick's chamber opera"Jacob's Room" and his media poems "Hungers" and "Intimate Immensity"; the title role in Robert Ashley's opera "Now Eleanor's Idea" as well as "Balseros""Dust" "Celestial Excursions" and "Concrete"; Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's "Einstein on the Beach" at Festival d'Avignon; Steve Reich's "Drumming"; and John Cage's "Solo for Voice 45" with "Atlas Eclipticalis" and "Winter Music" at Festival de La Rochelle, France. Her collaboration with Judy Chicago,"Prologue to The Book of Knowing...(and) of Overthrowing" was performed at the First New York International Festival of the Arts and Telluride's Composer-to-Composer Festivals.

In addition to the internationally-acclaimed "Three Voices for Joan La Barbara by Morton Feldman" (New Albion NA018), "Joan La Barbara Singing through John Cage" (New Albion NA035) and "Joan La Barbara/Sound Paintings" (Lovely Music LCD 3001), she has recorded for A&M Horizon, Centaur, Deutsche Grammophon, Elektra-Nonesuch, Mode, Music & Arts, MusicMasters, Musical Heritage, Newport Classic, New World, Sony, Virgin, Voyager and Wergo. "Voice is the Original Instrument", La Barbara's seminal works from the 70's, was released March 2003, as a 2-cd set (Lovely Music LCD3003-2) and hailed as one of The Wire's 10 best of the year. "ShamanSong" (New World Records 80545-2) includes her compositions"ShamanSong""Calligraphy II/Shadows" and "ROTHKO", a sound painting inspired by the Rothko Chapel. Her collaboration with visual/text artist Kenneth Goldsmith, "73 Poems", is an edition of prints, book and cd produced by Permanent Press and Lovely Music Ltd (LCD 3002). "The Time Is Now" a compilation of music composed to texts by Melody Sumner Carnahan, includes La Barbara’s works: "de profundis: out of the depths, a sign" and "A Different Train" (Frog Peak FP006). Recording projects as singer and/or producer include "Only: Works for Voice and Instruments" by Morton Feldman (New Albion NA085); "Rothko Chapel/Why Patterns" (New Albion), "John Cage at Summerstage with Joan La Barbara, Leonard Stein and William Winant", Cage's final concert performance on July 23, 1992 in NYC's Central Park (Music & Arts CD-875); "Centering - the music of Earle Brown" (Newport Classics npd 85631). La Barbara is featured on two recent Earle Brown cd releases: "Folio and Four Systems" (Tzadik TZ 8028) and "Tracer", with her ensemble Ne(x)tworks, on Mode Records, as well as Robert Ashley's "Now Eleanor's Idea""Your Money My Life Good-Bye""Concrete","Celestial Excursions", and "Dust".

Her works have been choreographed by John Alleyne for Ballet British Columbia, Nai-Ni Chen, Jane Comfort, Martha Curtis, Catherine Kerr, Martha Scott, and she performed her music with Merce Cunningham for a 1976 "Events" evening. Filmscores include "Anima" (Elizabeth Harris Productions); a score for voice with electronics for Steve Finkin's "Signing Alphabet" animation to assist hearing children in learning to communicate with the deaf, broadcast worldwide since 1977 for "Children's Television Workshop/Sesame Street"; and music for films by Richard Blau, Monica Gazzo, Amy Kravitz, Elyse Rosenberg, Steven Subotnick and Harvey Wang, and for video works by Susanna Carlisle. "Immersion", an underwater dance film by Jodi Kaplan featuring La Barbara's music was shown at the 1999 "New Directors/New Films" Festival at the Museum of Modern Art and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. La Barbara composed and performed the "Angel Voice" for actress Emmannuelle Béart in the feature film "Date with an Angel", vocal solos on John Frizzell's soundscore for "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer", and performed the "Alien Newborn Vocals" for "Alien: Resurrection".

Educated at Syracuse and New York Universities and Tanglewood/Berkshire Music Center, she gained compositional tools as an apprentice with the numerous composers with whom she has worked for four decades. Current studies include Michael Beckett's Experimental Workshop at HB Studios. La Barbara served on the faculties of California Institute of the Arts, Hochschule der Künste in Berlin, The College of Santa Fe, The University of New Mexico, visiting lecturer at Princeton University 2006-07, and currently on the Composition Faculty of New York University's Department of Music and Performing Arts Professionals, as well as maintaining a private studio in New York City. She served as Vice President of the American Music Center in New York; co-Artistic Director of the New Music America Festival in Los Angeles; was Contributing Editor for Musical America/High Fidelity (1977-87) and Schwann/Opus magazines, and, from 1989-2002, produced and co-hosted "Other Voices, Other Sounds," a weekly radio program focusing on contemporary classical music. La Barbara co-founded the performing composers ensemble Ne(x)tworks and is a Director of MATA. La Barbara was Artistic Director of the multi-year Carnegie Hall series, "When Morty met John", focusing on the music of John Cage, Morton Feldman and the New York School, and Artistic Director, Curator and Host of "Insights", a series of conversational encounters with distinguished composers for The American Music Center. Joan La Barbara is a composer and publisher member of ASCAP and is a member of American Composers Forum, SAG-AFTRA and AEA.