Vocalese is a 2-screen HD video suite of appropriated/modified/re-scored televised performances of competing vocalists from the US version of The Voice.
Concept & editing - Philip Brophy
Score & Dolby Digital 5.1 mix - Philip Brophy
Vocalese targets the phenomenon of competitive talent TV shows born in the hyper-global circulation of mediarized convergences which marked the early 00s. The key global francises emanated from the UK with Idol (debuting in 2001); X-Factor (debuting in 2003); and Got Talent (debuting in 2006). While these shows featured an array of talents, The Voice centred on solo singing. Originally a Dutch programme, The Voice notably employs spectacularized tropes and musicological axioms aligned with American iconography (the Baptist declaration within a unified congregation, the Negro spiritual appropriated in both indigenous and blackface guise, etc.). It also aligns its rationale, logic and affect with universalizing humanist tenets (the voice as unmediated expression of the self, vocalised song as prime mover of emotional affect, etc.). These production traits and their skilful exploitation of audience response became heightened in the American version of the show, debuting in 2012.
The Voice is admittedly an easy target for those who wish to dismiss the worst of reality television competitiveness and the aggressive success drive of the pop music industry. While one might support the politics of such reactions, it remains that music is powerful in ways that reductivist ideological critiques either avoid or dismiss. Vocalese intends to produce a critical work 'from within' its sourced media. Instead of merely 'commenting upon' or 'analytically exposing' the ideological machinations of The Voice, Vocalese manipulates the work from the inside-out, working with the materialized data of the recorded material to transmogrify the external form while retaining the internal aural energy of the originating material.
In its consideration of how the human voice is imaged and how vocalization is commodified and constructed through mediarized presentations such as The Voice, Vocalese specifically relates to the Evaporated Music trilogy (2000 to 2017) as well as other works like the 2-screen animation Vox (2007).Vocalese - Round 2 © 2021
Various episodes from season 15 of the USA version of The Voice in 2018 provide the visual material for Vocalese. As per the structure of the original show's battles and rounds, the two screens feature footage of a key performance from a singer and his or her opponent, facing off each other as they unleash their awe-inspiring feats of vocal prowress. Their faces capture the requiste ticks, grimaces and gurning to signfy to fellow humans that extreme emotional heights are being musically scaled - though of course such circus-oriented displays are more like evidence of the opposite: that these performers can pull off such extreme emotive signing to collaterize their singing. The 'scrubbing' technique employed for Vocalese is employed less to corrupt the digital data of the encoding, and more to freeze, loop, and extemporize their affectations with the clinical analytic tools associated with sports action replay. The visual shuddering and quivering also adds to their jittery puppet-like physicality, trapped within the bombastic black televisual void of multi-layered/multi-perspectival camera coverage which obsessively scans their spot-lit stature, gesture and visage. Each performer accordingly has their body and face shattered into a motion-collage that brutishly enlarges their head by 30% and their mouth by 20%. At times, they seem to be breaking down into pieces due to their excessive emotional outpouring.Vocalese - Round 3 © 2021
The visual effecting and editng was done in March/April 2019. The musical score was done in August 2021. Firstly, an edited vocal performance is fed through a vocoder, exploring a range of harmonic frameworks for the original singer's fragmented pitch. A sequence of phantom modulations occur, implying that the fragmented pitch is now being musically grounded. This is then repeated with the opponent's vocal performance, creating a mirage of resolving and conflicting harmonic mergers. Charles Ives' infamous experiment of two marching bands comes to mind, and provided inspiration for this 21st century take on colliding polyphonic Americana in The Voice. The 5 musical accompaniments are each based around a restrained duo or trio who then appear to 'accompany' the combatitive vocalising, but here presented as an imaginary projection of atonal embrace - as if Arnold Schoenberg was accepted in Hollywood and went on to spread his 'emancipation of dissonance' across America. For if he had, then The Voice would sound like Vocalese. Vocalese - Round 4 © 2021