Vocal Vibrations: Expressive Performance for Body-Mind Wellbeing

The voice and the body are instruments that everyone possesses. They are incredibly individual, infinitely expressive, and intimately linked to one's own physical form. As such, they can affect us on both emotional and anatomical levels. Building on our recent work on capturing operatic performances for Death and the Powers, we are now creating the next generation of tools for analyzing and enhancing expressive vocal and physical performance. Using sophisticated voice, breath, and movement analysis techniques, we seek to develop compelling artistic experiences that encourage the use of the body and singing voice in ways that are physiologically and emotionally beneficial.

In collaboration with Le Laboratoire in Paris and The Dalai Lama Center at MIT, we are exploring the hypothesis that the singing voice can influence mental and physical health through physicochemical phenomena and in ways consistent with contemplative practices. Additionally, many people are not comfortable “singing” or do not feel that they can use their voice to participate in a rich musical experience. To address this, we are developing techniques to engage the public in the regular practice of thoughtful singing and vocalizing, both as an individual experience and as part of a community. For spring 2014, we are developing a vocal art installation in Paris where a private “grotto” environment allows individual visitors to meditate using vibrations generated by their own voice, augmented by visual, acoustic, and physical stimuli.

We are also exploring group vocalization experiences that give participants an accessible way to share a musical experience with others. We performed an early experiment along these lines with the celebrated vocal ensemble Blue Heron in October 2012. Blue Heron led the audience in a collaborative vocal experience, asking audience members to sustain a single pitch while listening to how that note played with and against the complex five-part counterpoint being performed by Blue Heron. By giving the audience members a relatively simple way to engage their own voices in the performance, each person could experience the difference between simply listening to a piece of choral music and being involved physically and mentally in the creation of that music.

Blue Heron performing at MIT

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