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Sara Wilen

Sara Wilén

Teaching staff

Sara Wilen

Singing in Action : An inquiry into the creative working processes and practices of classical and contemporary vocal improvisation


  • Sara Wilén

Summary, in English

This dissertation explores performative perspectives on classical and contemporary vocal improvisation (CCVI) as a critical, creative tool for development of and research in vocal performance. It consists of one introductory part and five articles, with additional documentation on a homepage. The artistic projects have been performed in close collaboration with fellow classically trained singers and musicians. The practice of CCVI is contextualised in relation to vocal history, opera, improvisation practice(s) and research in vocal performance. The artistic methods of opera improvisation, lyrical improvisation and CCVI without words are described in text and video. The studies performed also investigate how theoretical concepts such as performativity, action and interperformativity can be used for articulating aspects of communication, creativity and knowledge in CCVI.
Central to the thesis is a suggested model for analysing performativity in three dimensions: the structural, the symbolic and the individual. Performative aspects of the singer’s subject positions as a vocal and instrumental persona in a classical vocal concert approach and an opera performance approach are articulated and problematised in the artistic practice. New artistic performance concepts and projects are presented. CCVI is used as a creative artistic tool for singers in critical dialogue with classical vocal performance tradition: deconstructing methods of portraying gender and power in operatic performance; opera improvisation with symphonic orchestra; composed and improvised opera with choirs; abstract improvisation in dialogue with visual art; improvisation with poetry and electronics and deconstructing Lied performance in dialogue with light design. An interview study focusing on the experiences and perspectives of the improvisers indicate that presence, relations to one another in the ensemble, relations to the emerging material, and the creation of common agreements and structures are central in CCVI. Three analytical models focusing on interaction in CCVI are presented: action analysis in improvisation, the Interplay Analysis Model and the use of the concept musico-performative tropes. It is suggested that improvisers in CCVI create music, text and dramatic content as vocal and musical actions by the intuitive use of musical and performative tropes in an interperformative play with the performance context as well as the classical singing tradition.


  • Teachers (Malmö Academy of Music)

Publishing year




Document type



  • Music


  • Singing
  • Improvisation
  • opera improvisation
  • performativity
  • interperformativity
  • vocal action
  • performance
  • inetraction




  • Karin Johansson
  • Stefan Östersjö
  • Henrik Frisk


  • ISBN: 978-88409-10-2

Defence date

2 October 2017

Defence time


Defence place

Red Room, Inter Arts Center, Bergsgatan 29, 214 22 Malmö


  • John Potter (Professor emeritus)