Joan La Barbara

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Joan Linda La Barbara (born June 8, 1947) is an American vocalist and composer known for her explorations of non-conventional or "extended" vocal techniques. [1] Considered to be a vocal virtuoso in the field of contemporary music, [2] she is credited with advancing a new vocabulary of vocal sounds including trills, whispers, cries, sighs, inhaled tones, and multiphonics (singing two or more pitches simultaneously).



An influential figure in experimental music, La Barbara was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a classically trained singer who studied with soprano Helen Boatwright at Syracuse University and contralto Marion Freschl at the Juilliard School in New York. [3]

Joan La Barbara's early creative work (early to mid 1970s) focuses on experimentation and investigation of vocal sound as raw sonic material including works that explore varied timbres on a single pitch, circular breathing techniques inspired by horn players, and multiphonic or chordal singing. In the mid 1970s, she began creating more structured compositional works, some of which include electronics and layered voice sounds. [4]

She has accumulated a large repertoire of vocal works by 20th- and 21st-century music masters, including many pieces composed especially for her voice. [5] She has performed and recorded works by composers including John Cage, Robert Ashley, Morton Feldman, Philip Glass, Larry Austin, Peter Gordon, Alvin Lucier, and her husband Morton Subotnick, and has collaborated with choreographer Merce Cunningham, and poet Kenneth Goldsmith. She also received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts John Cage Award (2016). [6]

La Barbara is a guest instructor at HB Studio. [7]

Other Work

Joan La Barbara has also done work acting and composing for television, film, and dance. She composed and performed the music for the Sesame Street animated segment Signing Alphabet, for electronics and voice, and has composed a variety of chamber, orchestral, and choral works. She also appears in Matthew Barney’s 2014 film River of Fundament . La Barbara is currently on the music composition artist faculty at New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, and on the faculty of Mannes/The New School/College of Performing Arts.


La Barbara works

See also

Further reading


  1. Harvard music dictionary.
  2. Pool, Jeannie G. (Jan., 1979). "America's Women Composers: Up from the Footnotes", p.35, Music Educators Journal, Vol. 65, No. 5., pp. 28-41. "Joan La Bar-[<br>]bara, a major innovator in her use of voice in both live and taped electronic works."
  3. Sadie, Julie Ann & Samuel, Rhian. The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers, , The Macmillan Press Limited, 1995, p. 259.
  4. Reynolds, Simon. "Joan La Barbara, Voice Is The Original Instrument + Tapesongs review, The Wire magazine, July 2016". Reynoldsretro . Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  5. Goldsmith, Kenneth. Joan La Barbara: Composer as Performer from “Don’t Quit Your Day Job”, New Music Box/American Music Center, 2000.
  6. "Joan La Barbara :: Foundation for Contemporary Arts". Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  7. or empty |title= (help)

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