An Incompleat History of the Voice

Entry from Acts of Transfer:

Duration: 39 min 18 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

An Incompleat History of the Voice unfolds as a solo work in five acts that demonstrates the power and accomplishments of the human voice–particularly the voice of the female performer–through a dynamic and theatrical multimedia installation and performance. The work was originally presented as Sawyer’s MFA thesis performance.

With humour, drama, and a dynamic cast of characters, the piece is mediated through the perspective of a vivacious leading chanteuse and “Public Envoy for the WAVSO (World Association of Vocal Sports Organizations),” Daisy Del Monte, played by Sawyer. Acting upon pre-recorded instructions by the artist, whom she refers to as “Ms. Sawyer” throughout the performance, Del Monte attempts to teach the audience about the tumultuous origins of the fictional WAVSO, only to be interrupted by Ms. Sawyer. She then defers to “a discussion of precision vocal tectonics to disrupt the molecular structure of the material world,” noting especially the voice’s ability “to maim or kill.” Over the course of the evening, a vocal demonstration becomes a slapstick glass-breaking act and the performance culminates in an absurd monologue and musical rendition of Mussetta’s Aria from the opera La Bohème, sung by Sawyer dressed in a mermaid costume.

The varied nature of this piece, which includes everything from storytelling to video, slides, electronic equipment and music,[1] is representative of Western Front’s multidisciplinary activities since its inception in 1973. Sawyer’s ongoing relationship with the organization is a testament to these affinities. A selection from Sawyer’s The Natalie Brettschneider Archive was recently exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2017, and exemplifies the range of her material engagements with photography, filmmaking, performance, and voice, as well as her commitment to the reinterpretation of history, particularly through a feminist lens. As part of the cabaret event Such Sweet Compulsion, a performance in the Grand Luxe Hall by Carol Sawyer and Andreas Kahre titled Chant Excellent (1998) documents three works composed by Brettschneider and Piscator for voice and piano, and can be viewed in the Western Front archives.

1 - Front Magazine, vol. IX, no. 2, p. 7, November/December 1997.

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Original Archive Entry:

An Incompleat History of the Voice in five acts

Multi-media Performance with pianist Vivienne Wang

A performance, described in a Simon Fraser University bulletin published on June 4, 1998 as “an eclectic and often humorous demonstration of the power of the human voice. Highlights included a demonstration of the art of shattering wine glasses with operatic high notes, and a mermaid rendition of an aria from Puccini’s La Bohème.”

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. IX, no. 2, p. 7, November/December 1997:

“An Incompleat History of the Voice in five acts” uses dramatic reenactment, storytelling, video, slides, electronic equipment and music to investigate some of the outstanding achievements of the singing voice in the history of Western civilization.

Carol Sawyer is a visual artist and singer who lives in Vancouver. Her photographic and installation works have been shown in numerous Canadian and American cities. During the last two years she has created performances that are about, or include, singing. This performance is part of the work she is doing to complete a masters degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Fine Arts at the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University, and she gratefully acknowledges the technical and financial support of the school for this project.