Many Micro Worlds
I am a singer-composer and since the beginning of 2020 I have been creating Micro Operas for social media, released on a semi-weekly basis. The pieces are video moments captured on daily walks through an urban landscape with subsequently composed and recorded voice-scapes. To date, I’ve created nine Micro Operas ranging in duration from ten to forty seconds. In their technical form, the works are compositional and video sketches which are now growing into related and longer works. In humble aspiration, I hope these tiny pieces offer a small moment to pause, breathe, and reflect in our troubled and challenging time.
My work inhabits the liminal spaces between Western art music voice traditions and contemporary and avant-garde composition of new voice works and new opera. Classical vocal technique forms the basis of my practice and is influenced by my studies with experimental vocal pedagogue Richard Armstrong of the Roy Hart lineage. I venture into the domain of extended vocal techniques pioneered by artists such as Cathy Berberian and Joan La Barbara with a nod to the influence of the late 19th century and early 20th century German expressionist vocal tradition of Sprechstimme (spoken-voice) / Sprechgesang (spoken-song). I continue to privilege classical vocal technique because I have an affinity for its aesthetic sonic quality and because it is an effective means to meet the technical, compositional, and genre demands of my own compositions as well as works in the contemporary canon. I explore a ‘re-shaping’ of opera and an honouring of its lineage from an ‘earlier time’ (Symonds and Karantonis 2013, 19)— there is something compelling about connecting to a tradition that is beginning to be so far in our cultural past, that its original intent, meaning, or purpose is nearly lost— although the technique remains.
By way of an introduction to the Micro Operas, the following voice audio work engages with theorists whose ideas and writing informs and resonates with my own. It is an exploration of meaning-making through a multi-layered and embodied voice practice. The text for the voice audio-scape is a setting of my experimental writing which simultaneously embraces poetics and critical theory.
Vocality is… (Audio 03:52)
Vocality: the linage of singer-generated work with a focus on upon
‘all the voice’s manifestations’
(Dunn and Jones, 1994, 1)
— the ‘spectrum of utterances broader than lyrics-based singing’
(Karantonis and Verstraete, 2014, 4).
Dislocate the centrality of the stage
(Michaels, 2013, 35).
Opera. Opus. Operatic. Operation. Operative. Opportunity.
Post. After. Instead of. Post. Postopera (Novak).
Postdramatic (Lehmann) — Deconstruct. Dislocate.
Abandons. Remixes narrative.
Mis en abyme: ‘to gaze into the abyss’: a me who is not me but me; a reflection of a reflection.
I am simultaneously an identifying subject and one that ‘immediately forbids any identification; it is not me, it is a non-me in me, beside me, outside of me, where the me becomes lost’
(Kristeva 1977, 163).
My voice is a me that is not me: ‘This heterogeneous object is a body, because it is a text’
(Kristeva 1984, 163).
My voice is a text: a body that is not my body and yet my body
a phantasmogrophic ‘vocalic body’ (Connor)
the experience of the acoustic mirror (Rosolato):
— emitted and heard —
— there and not there —
materially tangible and yet utterly(!) intangible
Sonority of language—
its vowels, constants, and non-representational voicings are ‘ways for the human body to sing the world’s praises and in the last resort to live it’ (Merleau-Ponty 2005, 218).
Misha Penton is a singer, composer, director, filmmaker, and writer. Her projects blossom in many forms: live performances, video and audio works, site specific installations, and writings. In a return to academia, she is a doctoral candidate in music at Bath Spa University, UK under the supervision of James Saunders and Pamela Karantonis (Goldsmiths University of London) mishapenton.com
Connor, Steven (2001) ‘Violence, Ventriloquism, and the Vocalic Body’ in Psychoanalysis and Performance, edited by Patrick Campbell and Adrian Kear. London: Routledge. pp. 75-93.
Dunn, Leslie C. and Jones, Nancy A. (1996) Embodied Voices: Representing Female Vocality in Western Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Karantonis, Pamela and Pieter Verstraete (2014) ‘Introduction/Overture’ in Cathy Berberian: Pioneer of Contemporary Vocality, edited by Pamela Karantonis, Francesca Placanica, et al., Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 3-18.
Kristeva, Julia. (1984) Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art (1977). Edited by Leon S. Roudiez. Translated by Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. New York (1984): Columbia University Press.
Lehmann, Hans-Thies (2006) Postdramatic Theatre. Translated Karen Jürs-Munby. Abington and New York: Routledge.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (2005) The Phenomenology of Perception (1962). Translated by Colin Smith. 3rd Edition. London, New York: Taylor and Francis.
Michaels, Blanca (2013) ‘Is this still opera?’ in The Legacy of Opera: Reading Music Theatre as Experience and Performance. Edited by Dominic Symonds and Pamela Karantonis. Amsterdam / New York: Rodopi.
Novak, Jelena (2015) Postopera: Reinventing the Voice-Body. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Rosolato, Guy (1974) ‘La voix: entre corps et langage’ in Revue française de psychanalyse, 38(1) pp. 75-94. My translation.
Symonds, Dominic and Pamela Karantonis (2013) ‘Introduction. Empty House, Booming Voices’ in The Legacy of Opera: Reading Music Theatre as Experience and Performance. Edited by Dominic Symonds and Pamela Karantonis. Amsterdam / New York: Rodopi.