Joan La Barbara (born 1947 in Philadelphia, PA) is an American Composer, Performer and Sound Artist. Her work explores the human voice as a multi-faceted instrument, expanding traditional boundaries in developing a unique vocabulary of experimental and extended vocal techniques.
La Barbara has collaborated with artists including Morton Subotnick, Alvin Lucier, Christian Marclay and Merce Cunningham, and in the early part of her career performed and recorded with Steve Reich, Philip Glass and several jazz artists, developing her own unique vocal/instrumental sound. Hailed as “one of the great vocal virtuosos of our time”, she premiered landmark compositions written for her by noted American composers, including Morton Feldman’s ‘Three Voices’; Morton Subotnick’s chamber opera ‘Jacob’s Room’; and the title role in Robert Ashley’s opera ‘Now Eleanor’s Idea’; as well as Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s ‘Einstein on the Beach’; Steve Reich’s ‘Drumming’; John Cage’s ‘Solo for Voice 45’, and many more.
In 2008, La Barbara was awarded the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction for significant contributions to the field of contemporary American music.
Read a full biography alongside recordings and archival photographs via the artist’s website here
Above: Klee Alee (scored for multiple voices) was commissioned by RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) in 1979 and was released on her Reluctant Gypsy LP, Wizard Records. The piece takes inspiration from the composer’s experiences while viewing a Paul Klee painting.
Listen below to an interview with Joan La Barbara via the CKUT archives, produced November 1990 by Kathy Kennedy.