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"Unusual sounds in complex contexts"

Michael Edgerton

PORTRAIT. Michael Edgerton is a composer, world citizen and since the summer of 2019, Professor of Artistic Research at the Malmö Academy of Music.

How come you decided to apply for a job in Sweden and move here?

- In 2002, I began to work with guitarist Stefan Östersjö and then later ensemble Ars Nova, and the Stockholm Sax Quartet. These were good experiences and I was impressed with the quality of musicians in the region. Also, since most of my professional activities takes place in countries south of here, Malmö is a very good hub.

What is your earliest musical memory?

- When I was a kid, my mom took me to some experimental performance - with dry ice producing a blue fog along with electronic sounds. This would have been in the late 60s in Racine, Wisconsin.

You have been conducting research in voice science since 1995, what is it that interest you about the voice?

- For some reason, as a kid I was attracted to strange sounds – perhaps coming out of the psychedelic age of the 60s. So, for me voice was just another instrument capable of making weird sounds. 

- Then later I worked with some of the major figures associated with experimental voices in the 70s, including my Doctoral Supervisor, William Brooks who worked with the EVT ensemble at UCSD and also with Electric Phoenix from the UK. So, I began to get more into the world of contemporary voice. After completing my Doctorate, I was living in California and began to study voice science on my own. I was invited by the editors of the New Instrumentation Series, then with the University of California Press, to contribute a book on extended vocal techniques for their series. Naturally I agreed, but realized I needed more information and more structured knowledge of voice. So, on a chance meeting with the voice scientist and professor of otolaryngology at the University of Wisconsin, Professor Diane Bless, I began the formal study of the science of voice through the National Center for Voice and Speech, directed by Ingo Titze. Since then, I’ve continued to apply findings in voice science to the search for the limits of vocal production and expression.

You also compose contemporary music for solo artists, choirs and ensembles – how would you describe your music to someone who isn’t familiar with your genre? Is there a name for it?

- I’m not a good business-person and haven’t developed any easy tags for this stuff. The most concise description might be that my compositions use unusual sounds in complex contexts. 

Listen to: #88. abaGa baʁatur (uncle hero) for SATB Voices

What is an extra-normal voice?

-  I’ve used the term to describe those behaviors that are not part of the normal repertoire here in the west – or whose tones do not feature a prominent fundamental frequency with a slightly descending spectral slope. This could include multiple sound sources, spectral reinforcement, the integration of noise with voiced production, or the use of inharmonic potentials of voice, among many others.

Who has an extra-normal voice?

- Everyone – it’s just a matter of training the brain to ask the voice to open the door and walk into a feral space….

How do you find yourself here in Malmö?

- I like it here. This is a good place to conduct the types of activities that focus on the questions of “what next?” in contemporary music. I also like the Swedish culture and am enjoying learning Swedish.

So what does come next in contemporary music?

- Impossible to answer, but for sure, there will not be only one answer. There will be progressive as well as retro reactions, and multi-cultural as well as multi-specie developments to any accumulated history. For now, decoupled and desynchronized, multi-dimensional parameterization seem to hold the furthest explorations. But this will of course abruptly change or at least morph into another in another 30 years. So let’s not forget the past while throwing that javelin towards the future.

Name: Michael Edward Edgerton
Title: Professor in artistic research in music
Favorite composer: no allegiance, but these days I think about the music of Pierluigi Billone
Fun fact: I’m a 2nd degree black belt in Chinese Kung Fu

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