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Meet Michael Edgerton

Michael Edgerton. Photo.

Professor Michael Edgerton is a composer directing the Artistic Research programme at Malmö Academy of Music who has made a name for himself within the field of Artistic Research in Music by being at the forefront of vocal exploration. His compositions have received performances and recognition around the world, and he has just released a new CD with the pianist Moritz Ernst on the label Perfect Noise (Stuttgart).

Edgerton’s musical beginnings, however, were quite humble; he grew up in a small town in the Midwest, USA, surrounded more by fields than music. There was one instrument in the house though; his mum’s organ, which he started to play as a teenager. He also started to take vocal classes and by the age of 15 he had his mind set on making music his career.

– I remember telling my friends that I was going to pursue music for a living. They told me that I did not take music courses at High School, but I answered, ‘just wait’. I do not know why, but I had this idea that music was something I could do. 

From the Midwest to maestro

Fast-forward in time and Edgerton has proven himself right. By now he enjoys a long and interesting career within the field of music composition with a specialty in vocal exploration where his research on the Extra-Normal Voice intersects with music composition, performance, voice training, vocology and voice science. Edgerton is also the author of The 21st Century Voice – a book exploring the possibilities of the human voice, which has become somewhat of a bible in his field of research.

– When you play an instrument, one can look at the reed, the mouthpiece, the resonator and try to understand how it works, but you cannot see inside the voice. That has always interested me, how we talk about the voice. In one way, it is like developing a new language to understand how sounds are made. Since the 60s, composers and performers would rely on metaphors like ‘make it sound like a trumpet’, or a ‘monkey’, but that will only get you so far. Just like a musician playing an instrument might want to learn more about the science of their instrument, that is what I wanted to do want to do as well. How can you go further? One way of doing it is to look thoroughly at how the voice works and by pulling it apart.

The reluctant researcher

Even after writing a book that has become the standard for experimental voice for the last 20 years, in addition to numerous scholarly articles on music composition, the extra-normal voice, multidimensional scaling in sound production, and nonlinear phenomenon Edgerton still does not introduce himself as a researcher.

– I never call myself a researcher, I am first and foremost a composer. Everything I do feeds back into my work as a writer of music. If that means studying an instrument, it is and has always been, for the purpose of exploring what is next, what is new. For me it is not only about what an instrument can do, but how we structure music and what we add to it.

The Aurum Chamber Choir won the Norwegian Choir Championship 2023 singing Michael Edgerton's composition 'Keltainen huone' (Yellow Room).

Intricate sounds

Describing Edgerton’s music is not an easy task, it merges diverse influences such as European avant-garde, American experimentalism, and world music into contexts that are often informed by scientific models and metaphors. Maybe this has to do with the fact that he has taught and lived in the US, Asia, and Europe. Or maybe not. His last CD with the label Perfect Noise is no exception, it contains three pieces for piano, all with different styles and sources of inspiration.

For the opening piece, called Thrush, Edgerton has used the composer Olivier Messiaen’s artistic transcriptions of the wood thrush from the 50s as the raw material, which he has completely transformed with the help of acoustic analysis. In the second piece, Noise, focus is placed on the sounds you normally do not want to hear from the piano, such as the mechanism of the hammers and the movement of the pedals. By placing microphones inside the piano Edgerton effectively draws our attention to these sounds and turns them into a protest against the relationship between 'proper' cultural artefacts and the noises at the margins. The third piece, 1. Sonata, draws its inspiration from the physicist Albert-László Barabási’s idea of ‘scale-free networks’, which insinuates that simple laws govern complex structures. By applying different principals from this model, Edgerton has managed to create something new and indeed very complex.

– 1. Sonata is one of my favorite pieces for piano. It is so hard to play, but Moritz Ernst plays it brilliantly.

Michael Edgerton. Photo.

The future is looking bright

Michael Edgerton is not one to stand still, and while enjoying the release of his new CD he is already looking forward to new endeavors.  His composition Wassermann has been selected for the event Hyper-Objects: Acousmatic Music in Connection at the Porto Planetarium, which takes place on May 29th in Porto, Portugal. He is also preparing other performances in France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, and Chile in the coming months.

Read more about Michel Edgerton in Lund University's Research Portal