Voices that Matter

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March 05, 2012

‘Few artists today publicly express an opinion on anything other than subsidy schemes and cultural politics. I want to counteract the prevalent trend that we see far too much of in popular culture of revealing private details and revelling in self-adulation’, writes Maja K Ratkje, who has curated the concert series Voices that Matter.

Of all instruments the human voice is the most personal. The sound of a voice is perceived and listened to in a different way from anything else. The recognition factor naturally plays an important role, in that practically all of us hear and have voices ourselves. And we have developed the ability to recognise the sound of a voice before other sounds. Considerable distortion has to take place before we fail to hear a voice as such. We are apparently also capable of determining distance and direction better than with other sounds. This is of course a result of natural development for survival in far more dangerous surroundings. Anyone using the voice as an instrument has experienced the connection to the enormous latent potential within the expression of the voice simply because this is the most important organ used in human communication, and furthermore irrevocably joined with the life-giving breath.

Few artists today publicly express an opinion on anything other than subsidy schemes and cultural politics. I want to counteract the prevalent trend that we see far too much of in mainstream music, where artists seem to be mostly interested in self-adulation and revealing private details with the aim of fame and recognition. The series Voices that Matter is an attempt to collect some more relevant voices. Radically different ways of using the voice – physically as well as being 'bearers of a voice'  – will be presented in the course of five concerts. From a number of collaborators and colleagues I have selected a broad spectrum of artists who all have something to say.

The use of the voice can by definition never be impersonal. But does this include that one has ‘a voice’? This metaphor, meaning voicing something we believe in, is a far cry from merely expressing a mood or fulfilling a list of criteria for how to sing, or use your skills on instruments or in composition correctly and as expected.

Without breath we cease to exist. Without voices that matter, we are also poorly equipped for survival. The English improvisation artist Phil Minton says that anyone with breath can join his Feral Choir. Everyone is equal, regardless of background, class or musical skills. Who will take part in Bergen is a surprise. Experience a concert with the Feral Choir in Logen on 1 June, and you will carry a smile around with you for a long time afterwards. In the same concert, which has been titled New Concept of Choirs, the vocal artist Stine Janvin Motland will premiere a new work by Øyvind Torvund, commissioned for the occasion, and the Norwegian Girls’ Choir will perform my stage work Ro–Uro ('Calmness-Agitation'), inspired by folk music and the history of despots.

One of the greatest voices of our era is David Moss. It is a great honour to present the American during the Bergen International Festival – don’t miss him in Logen on 31 May. There will be more powerful solos on 2 June, also in Logen, with the controversial unbridled noise artist Dave Phillips, the virtuoso of voice and theremin Koichi Makigami (known for collaborating with John Zorn and Otomo Yoshihide amongst others) and Tone Åse, who will perform a 'sound novel' in Bergen dialect!

The English viol consort Fretwork draws a connection between times ancient and modern in works by composers ranging from Purcell and Gesualdo to Tan Dun and Ratkje. The Norwegian author Karin Sveen, known for her incisive political contributions to left-wing newspapers, will also be presented reading her own poem ET OS, which was a direct source of inspiration for my work River Mouth Echoes.

I have invited the artist HC Gilje to join me to create a special room of sound and light for the first concert of the series in Johanneskirken (St John’s Church) on 25 May, my only contribution to the series as a musician.


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