2 Inuit throat singers, contemporary choir and accordion

Premiere: February 25, 2019, Montréal / Nouvelles Musiques 2019: Inuit Songs II, Cathédrale Christ Church, Montréal (Québec)

Inuit throat singing is a form of musical expression that manages to fuse simplicity with complexity into songs that have charmed and delighted listeners from all cultural backgrounds. As a composer with antennae for all things new and different in music, I have often wondered about the possibility of composing for Inuit throat singers. And yet, most of what I am trying to accomplish as a composer is already present in traditional Inuit throat singing: the sounds are totally unique as musical material, they are put together in highly sophisticated structures that mystify the listener, and the songs feature original, quasi-improvised forms that even manage to evade the need for music notation.

Even though I find a perfection in Inuit throat singing, I remained intrigued by the idea of an encounter between throat singers and the extended vocal techniques found in experimental contemporary music. In many regards they are polar opposites: in music notation, aesthetics and artistic practice they have little in common. And yet the actual sounds they produce do indeed share some points of similarity, and the inherent flexibility of the voice helps to bridge some of the space between these musical styles. After receiving a positive response to my tentative inquiry about a possible collaboration from the prominent Inuit throat singer and teacher Akinisie Sivuarapik in Puvirnituq, we began the first steps of the encounter that you will experience this evening.

The idea of an encounter is central to tonight’s piece but also to this project as a whole. The idea is of a meeting between equals, the respectful sharing of ideas between professional practitioners of two vocal art forms. But it is also an encounter between myself and the Inuit I met while visiting Akinisie in Puvirnituq this past summer, an meeting of musical and cultural traditions, the experience of listening and learning from one another within a creative process. In December, Akinisie and Lisa-Louise came to Germany to meet and work with the Neue Vocalsolisten in Stuttgart, trying out sounds and experimenting with various possibilities for how to make music together. They also performed throat singing during their visit, a particularly memorable exchange was meeting a group of 60 musicians from various traditional backgrounds at the Center for World Music in Hildesheim. These exchanges have been an important part of the process for my work on this project.

encounters is thus perhaps more of an idea or situation, a shared experience between the musicians on stage and the audience, rather than a composition. The music unfolds as a series of moments, various meeting points between the singers that are reactions, exchanges, responses to one another, a series of encounters that seeks to explore possible interactions between them. Traditional throat songs do appear prominently in the piece, but they are also presented in parts and fragments, sometimes in new combinations with one or more members of the Neue Vocalsolisten that experiment with finding fresh aural perspectives on these sounds. The vocal techniques of the German singers are also used by the Inuit singers, creating new and unexpected versions of the traditional songs, alongside new colorations of the a capella singing by the Vocalsolisten. These encounters are also aided by the presence of an accordionist: an instrument that both cultures have taken on as their own. The accordion is originally a European folk instrument but it has become an important part of contemporary music of the past 100 years and it has also long been an integral part of musical life in the various Inuit communities across Canada, having been imported by European whalers in previous centuries.

In addition to the various sponsors and partners named in the program, I would like to extend a special note of thanks to Akinisie Sivuarapik for her generosity in helping me better understand Inuit throat singing and its cultural contexts over the course multiple meetings since last summer, as well as to the people of Puvirnituq for their openness in hosting me for a week in their community last summer. Without their help this project would not have been possible.

Thanks also to Sarah Gauntlett and Louis Gagnon at the Avataq Cultural Institute for their advice and for taking the time to help me research their archives in Montréal.