Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Maria Mannisto - December 11, 2011


The most important aspect of an opera singer’s training is gaining the technique necessary to be heard over a large orchestra through the entire range of the singing voice. By learning to control breath pressure, relax the larynx, and manipulate the resonating chamber inside the throat and mouth, a singer can cultivate the singer’s formant (a peak of spectral energy at around 3000 Hz not present in orchestral instruments) necessary to successfully be heard without a microphone. This results in the characteristic opera tone: free, rich and expressive, with a large spectrum of overtones and the ever-criticized vibrato.

As a trained opera singer with a particular fondness for contemporary musical styles, I’m sometimes disappointed that classical singing and contemporary/popular music aren’t more compatible. When singing modern and popular music I seldom get to utilize my full range of volume, pitch and expression. Instead I often find myself manipulating my voice to control volume and vibrato, and thus create a sound that seems to be more pleasing to the modern ear. I’d like to see what happens when I combine my training in the bel canto singing style with my love of beat-oriented electronic music.

In a composition that I will present at this Sunday’s session, I’ve juxtaposed classical art song with experimental electronica and glitch – something which to my knowledge is rarely done other than in house remixes of existing classical songs and arias. My piece is for voice and string quartet, with electronics composed and improvised by Justin Parker. The vocals will be sung in the bel canto style, with long florid lines interspersed with quicker coloratura, utilizing a full range of pitch and expression. I wanted to primarily showcase the voice and electronics, but felt that just those two elements alone would sound a bit too chaotic and unstable. I needed some harmonic “glue”, and a string quartet playing primarily holding long static chords seemed like a good choice! 

Joining me on Sunday are:

  • Andrew Joslyn – violin
  • Mitchell Drury – violin
  • Seth May – viola
  • Natalie Hall – cello
  • Justin Parker - electronics

For the improv following my piece, just do what you do best. Be true to your particular musical training and background, and don’t be afraid to combine styles, genres and unlikely instrumentations. I look forward to playing with and for you on Sunday!

… free punch and pie …