Circuits is a piece for female voice and tape that I wrote for Joan La Barbara in 1990-91.  During a 10-day period we spent in New Mexico, I studied La Barbara’s vocal techniques and worked intensively with the acoustic possibilities of her voice.  I was particularly intrigued with her technique of circular singing—pitched singing on the in-breath and out-breath.  This technique forms the basis of La Barbara’s composition Circular Song, a series of ascending and descending pitch glissando on in-breaths and out-breaths.  I was also influenced by another form of circular singing known as Inuit throat singing, in which singers mimic sounds of the environment, such as rivers flowing.  An intriguing element of Joan La Barbara’s performances is the kind of energy she infuses into the music she performs.  I began to think of breathing as a rhythmic energy system essential to the physical act of singing, and I wanted to integrate this energy with the physical, athletic quality La Barbara brings to performance.

Circuits is for solo voice and 24-track tape.  The harmonic structure of the piece is based on the overtone structures of the most resonant pitches of La Barbara’s voice.

La Barbara recorded each individual track in a 24-track recording studio.  Multitracking the same voice several times has the effect of reinforcing the particular resonance of that voice, and it creates a kind of simultaneity that takes the music out of a linear sense of time.  The multitracked voices create a dense counterpoint that results in an equally dense, textural sound field.

The pitch groups are all based on intuitive mathematical patterning within a general mapping of the overtone series of Eb.  With the stark contrast of clear, resonant pitches and breathy unpitched vocal sounds I wanted to integrate the physical demands of singing into the music itself.  The entire rhythmic structure is based on a 5-sec cycle of breathing in and out—La Barbara’s natural breathing rhythm.  In each section, the 24 tracks begin in structured time and gradually move out of it. (Fig5).  The combination of these tracks creates a feeling of dissipation.  This loss of coherence is the result of each individual track moving slowly out of the established tempo and rhythm of the piece and into a freer interpretation of the material.

Fig.5.  The excerpt from the Circuits score for 24-track tape shows where tracks 1,4 and 5 begin to move out of structured time.