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Electrifying Opera, Amplifying Agency: Designing a performer-controlled interactive audio system for opera singers

Electrifying Opera, Amplifying Agency: Designing a performer-controlled interactive audio system for opera singers

PhD Candidate Kristin Norderval's doctoral project

Academic summary

This artistic research project examines the artistic, technical, and pedagogical challenges of developing a performer-controlled interactive technology for real-time vocal processing of the operatic voice. As a classically trained singer-composer, I have explored ways to merge the compositional aspects of transforming electronic sound with the performative aspects of embodied singing.

I set out to design, develop, and test a prototype for an interactive vocal processing system using sampling and audio processing methods. The aim was to foreground and accommodate an unamplified operatic voice interacting with the room's acoustics and the extended disembodied voices of the same performer. The iterative prototyping explored the performer's relationship to the acoustic space, the relationship between the embodied acoustic voice and disembodied processed voice(s), and the relationship to memory and time.

One of the core challenges was to design a system that would accommodate mobility and allow interaction based on auditory and haptic cues rather than visual. In other words, a system allowing the singer to control their sonic output without standing behind a laptop. I wished to highlight and amplify the performer's agency with a system that would enable nuanced and variable vocal processing, be robust, teachable, and suitable for use in various settings: solo performances, various types and sizes of ensembles, and opera. This entailed mediating different needs, training, and working methods of both electronic music and opera practitioners.

One key finding was that even simple audio processing could achieve complex musical results. The audio processes used were primarily combinations of feedback and delay lines. However, performers could get complex musical results quickly through continuous gestural control and the ability to route signals to four channels. This complexity sometimes led to surprising results, eliciting improvisatory responses also from singers without musical improvisation experience.

The project has resulted in numerous vocal solo, chamber, and operatic performances in Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the United States. The research contributes to developing emerging technologies for live electronic vocal processing in opera, developing the improvisational performance skills needed to engage with those technologies, and exploring alternatives for sound diffusion conducive to working with unamplified operatic voices.

Project facts

Project title Electrifying Opera, Amplifying Agency: Designing a performer-controlled interactive audio system for opera singers
Project manager
Start date
End date
Project status Active
Department Academy of Opera
  1. Kristin Norderval: Electrifying Opera, Amplifying Agency: Designing a performer-controlled interactive audio system for opera singers (2023). Doctoral dissertation. More information
  2. Kristin Norderval: Excerpts from "The Sailmaker´s Wife" performed at "VoxLAB VårFEST 2021" 26.08.2021 (2021). Music - composition. More information
  3. Kristin Norderval: Spillerom Søndag - Om lyd, lytting og stemmen - VoxLAB (2021). Interview. More information
  4. Kristin Norderval: "Something is coming" (2021). Musical performance. More information
  5. Kristin Norderval: "Introducing opera singers to vocal processing" - interactive workshop (2021). Lecture. More information
  6. Kristin Norderval: "Embodied Voice: the extended roles of today´s opera singers." - Panel discussion with Franziska Baumann and Alex Nowitz (2021). Lecture. More information
  7. Kristin Norderval: VoxLAB and Vocal Music (2020). Interview. More information
  8. Kristin Norderval: Den utvidede stemmen (2021). Interview. More information
  9. Kristin Norderval: Night of New Vocalities (2021). Other presentation. More information
  10. Toril Carlsen, Anna Elisabet Einarsson, Alexander Refsum Jensenius & Kristin Norderval: Contemporary Vocal Arts Training: Renewing the opera form through new pedagogical practices that expand the role of the singer (2021). Lecture. More information
  11. Marianne Baudouin Lie, Else Bø, Sigrid Elisabeth Stang, Eva Holm Foosnæs, Ellen Lindquist & Kristin Norderval: Eit Underliggjande Landskap drikk av Himmelen (2020). Musical performance. More information
  12. Kristin Norderval: Electrifying Opera: Amplifying agency for opera singers improvising with interactive audio technology (2020). Academic lecture. More information
  13. Kristin Norderval, Patricia Isasa, Hanna Filomen Mjåvatn, Siri Haugan Holden & Patricia Kaatee: Art & Trauma - What do we need to consider? (2019). Lecture. More information

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