Thursday visitor, Erin Gee

Students of Music 2421: Our Thursday visitor will be composer Erin Gee. In preparation for her discussion of “New Uses of the Voice (the vocal cavity as human ‘space’)”, she suggests considering the following questions:

As you prepare for class, here are some questions to ponder, a few excerpts to listen to, and an exercise to practice:

George Aperghis
Recitations 1-14 for solo voice (1977-78) – excerpts, #12 and #13:

Brian Ferneyhough
Time and Motion Study III (1974) for 16 voices with percussion, electronic amplification (and optional loop-tape delay) –

Dieter Schnebel
Für Stimmen…missa est (1956/67-68) for three choir groups and tape ad lib.



1. How is listening to vocal music without text (non-semantic vocal music) similar to or different from listening to vocal music with a text in a language we understand? How does the non-semantic use of the voice change our perception of the vocal performer?

a. What are the vocal sound-materials that are used? Where do they come from? What are the compositional techniques that are used?

2. How does a text help guide a composer’s compositional choices? When a text is no longer present or used by the composer for the vocal line, what compositional choices does a composer have to make then?

3. There are three parts of sound production in the vocal tract: the active articulator (tongue or lips), the place of articulation within the mouth, and the type of airflow (where the air comes from and how it moves through the system). Following is an exercise to practice awareness of some possibilities of articulation:

a. Pronounce the syllable “tɑ” (with “ɑ” as in “father”)

b. Notice where the tongue is placed on the roof of the mouth. This point is called the place of articulation.

c. Now move the tongue to different places of articulation in different parts while still trying to pronounce the syllable “tɑ”. At what points does the sound change and why? At what points are you no longer able to produce a recognizable “tɑ” syllable?

d. Write a list of observations about the vocal tract that you discovered from this exercise and a list of the sounds that you found most interesting as part of a journal entry on the voice. Notice in particular what the breath does to create the “t” syllable. What is necessary in the mouth for this to take place?

4. As possibly the only living expert on your own voice, what would you consider to be some of the limitations to the voice or vocal tract that you have come across? These could be specific to your own voice or more general to the vocal tract. And more importantly:

What would be some possible solutions to these limitations?

You could approach this question either from the standpoint of a theoretical “re-designing” of the vocal tract or designing additional systems/technology that could be used in tandem with the vocal tract.

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