Joan La Barbara
Wilkes Barre, USA: Chiaroscuro Records, 1977
12" vinyl LP
Edition size unknown
Joan La Barbara is a virtuoso vocalist and composer who has collaborated with Robert Ashley, Larry Austin, Matthew Barney, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Morton Feldman, Philip Glass, Kenneth Goldsmith, Lou Harrison, Alvin Lucier, Christian Marclay, Steve Reich and many other significant artists and composers.
Tapesongs, her second release, remains one of her most celebrated recordings. The record features three different tracks, mostly a cappella, though she is accompanied by her own electronics and the timpani of Bruce Ditmas and Warren Smith on the final cut, the twenty-three minute long "Thunder".
Her performance of "Solo for Voice 45" (a piece whose pitches have been derived from star maps and organized according to the I Ching) has been called "the definitive recording" of the John Cage composition. La Barbara herself used chance operations to determine which phrases would be sung with the French pronunciation of the alphabet, and which would be sung in English.
She describes their first encounter:
"In 1976 in La Rochelle, France, it was the first time I was going to perform Cage’s music, his “Solo for Voice 45” from Song Books. Because it was the hottest and driest summer that had happened in Europe in ages, he arranged for two refrigerators to be placed to the side of the stage. He said to the musicians, “If your part includes long silences, you may quietly leave the stage and go and get yourself something cool to drink.”
It was a very generous thing to do; unfortunately it was also a recipe for disaster. The musicians decided that he obviously didn’t have any respect for concerts. The oboe player walked on stage carrying two bottles of wine and drank himself into a stupor, never picking up his instrument.
And afterwards Cage came up to me and said, “You were marvellous – you did your part and it was exquisite. I am with you always.” That was the moment I believe that he became my mentor."
In the liner notes for Tapesongs, Cage (in one of his annoying acrostics) calls La Barbara "a singer who changes your mind about music. And she does it in many different ways".
La Barbara can be heard singing the alphabet on Sesame Street, from around the same era as Tapesongs, on Youtube, here.