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Staying Broken: Voice Break
As A Revolutionary Moment*um

Sound-based lecture performance in German (2020)

concept, dramaturgy, text, composition, scenography, staging:

the paranormal φeer group (Jakob Boeckh & Maria Huber & Eloain Lovis Hübner) + Neo Hülcker

performance: Neo Hülcker

audio engineering: Donny Karsady

world premiere: September 28, 2020, Festival für immaterielle Kunst, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg

further performance: November 17, 2022, Labor Neunzehn’s Cluster #22, KM28 Berlin

Commissioned by the Festival für immaterielle Kunst

Dear Neo,
In April 2020, we find ourselves in a moment of break. Professional routines are breaking down, everyday rituals are being suspended, broken off. Art and culture are in a general pause – if one disregards home office productions and digital streaming services. In view of the current crisis situation, we want to understand and investigate the phenomenon of “( voice) break” as a holistic principle. Some of our considerations in this context are:
What if we transfer “voice break” to other dispositives as well, by asking: where else does my voice break – What moments of break can I experience on a daily basis and what exactly happens in these moments? (So e.g. breaking of the voice in very old people, breaking of the voice in emotional moments, breaking of the voice in (trans*)male* puberty, etc.) Can voice-break, based on this extension, rather than be described as a transitory moment, be described as a moment that actually contains revolutionary potential precisely through its being uncertain, through its fleetingness and through its innumerable (im)possibilities that only arise in the moment of breaking? What does this revolutionary potential sound like? How can we grasp this potential of being broken theoretically-philosophically?
Or in other words: what if we take the current general pause, this rupture, seriously as silence and take responsibility for our being-in-between – that is, plunge ourselves less into production and more into listening together? What if we turn “break” into an attempt at a common “being-broken”? A being-in-process together? […]

We perceive the sonority of the performance as inseparable from its content and performativity – meaning the principle of “break” should run through the vocal and musical arrangement in various ways. To this end, we would like to work closely with you to achieve a realization of the material we have developed (and expanded together) that lets you repeatedly interrupt, restart, stall, split spoken and sung words into individual sounds and over-articulate them, “catch” you in larger and smaller, regular and irregular loops. We would like to take your voice to high and low extremes, or to unstable breaking points, and try to capture brief moments in the "in-between" of head and chest registers. To do this, we will develop specific tasks in consultation with you, such as asking you to speak in the head voice, practice throat singing, or double the pitch intervals when speaking, etc. […]
But just as we understand the collective and process-oriented work on this and other of our performances in permanent becoming, we are also interested in the fundamental idea of a search for identity (individual as well as collective) that has no beginning and no end, moving on throughout life, taking detours and zigzagging courses, sometimes being strongly perceptible to the outside world over certain periods of time, but often simply taking place in secret. As a beautiful musical symbol for an endless becoming and passing, a never-ending “breaking” of the future with the past, seems to us the acoustic phenomenon of the Shepard glissando, to whose always-same never-ending rest you will be able to behave differently again and again in several playing tasks in the course of the performance: by doubling, singing glissando in opposite directions, completely counteracting, picking out single tones, etc.
And finally, we would like to use live electronics to synthetically “break” your voice (through grain effects, jumpy vocoders, etc.), to create more sonic “in-between” states, to continue your vocal break into unimagined depths … Your voice already has an eventful history, your voice break has produced sound qualities that might have gone out of tune the very next day and could never be restored in the same way. Therefore, with the help of electronics, we would like to give you many different, partly random voice qualities, many “in-betweens”, replayed echoes of past voices, which comment on each other, fall into each other’s words, imitate each other, start canons, which form a multiplicity of possible Neo voices, become a pluralistic Neo choir, sometimes wildly mixed up and sometimes speaking as if from the same mouth – so that in the end there is implicitly (or explicitly?) the age-old, classical question of the opposition of individual and collective and of the exchange of their respective principles: What, then, would a society of voice-breakings be? And what would be a voice-breaking society?

Staying Broken / © Gerhard Kühne
Staying Broken / © Gerhard Kühne
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