In Erin's Words...

Editor’s Note: Born in California in 1974 and formerly based in Graz, Austria, Erin Gee now lives and works in the United States. A composer, performer, vocalist and vocal-artist, Gee also collaborates with sibling-collaborator Colin Gee and others on video installations, opera, film, dance, and theatre. [To avoid confusion: There is more than one music composer and vocalist named Erin Gee!]

For more than 20 years, the core of my creative work has been a series of compositions called Mouthpieces. In these compositions I am often the performing vocalist. In all cases, my own experimental vocalizations strongly impact the compositional process. The Mouthpieces began as solo vocal works, devoid of semantic text or language and notated with the International Phonetic Alphabet. In the Mouthpiece Series, the voice is an instrument of sound production rather than a vehicle of identity. Linguistic meaning is not the goal. The construction of the vocal text is often based on linguistic structure —vowel-consonant formation and the principle of the allophone [an alternate pronunciation of a phoneme that does not change the meaning of a word] — and is relatively quiet, with an emphasis on the breath. My goal has been to construct intricate and subtle patterns of a diverse array of vocal sounds.

I am in interested in the space where friction occurs between what one expects to hear from a mouth and what one actually hears in the Mouthpieces.

TAK ensemble performs Erin Gee's Mouthpiece 28
Out on 'Oor' 5/18—TAK editions TAK is: Laura Cocks, flute Carlos Cordeiro, clarinet Marina Kifferstein, violin Ellery Trafford, percussion Charlotte Mundy, voice This video was co-directed by TAK, shot by Cutting Bird Media, and edited by Laura Cocks and David Bird Mouthpiece 28 was recorded at Oktaven Audio by Ryan Streber, produced by David Bird and Laura Cocks, and Mastered by Chris Botta ℗ & © all rights reserved TAK ensemble 2019

The Mouthpiece Series began as a single work for voice in a purely instrumental form. It grew to combine voice and ensemble, using instrumental imitation and variation of vocal sound materials.  This led me to think in terms of the “supermouth” concept: the voice and ensemble create a vocal-like entity that surpassed the abilities of each alone. Thus, my approach to instrumental sound and harmony is deeply connected to the resonance of the voice.

In the opera SLEEP (Opernhaus Zürich) and in Mouthpiece XIII (LMVH Commission, Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall) and Mouthpiece XX (Konzerthaus Vienna), I went a step further, connecting the vocal/instrumental sonorities to character and narrative. To conceive of the extended voice as character was a challenging but essential shift for me.  This led to working with actors onstage (Colin Gee and Morgan Moody), video, and a poetic libretto by actor/writer/dramaturge Colin Gee.

Mouthpiece 28, Mouthpiece 32, and the newer, not-yet-recorded Mouthpiece 39, deploy the “one-single-mouth” or “super mouth” found in earlier works such as Mouthpiece VII and Mouthpiece X. In works which combine voice and instrumental ensemble, I use the term “super-mouth” to describe the augmentation of the vocal sounds through a range of similar sounds from the other instruments. However, in Mouthpiece 39 the single vocal performer is not present, and the diverse vocal sounds performed by the string quartet are (often) simultaneous imitations of the sounds performed on their four instruments.

Mouthpiece 29 at Tanglewood, 2016
Photo by: Hillary Scott for the Boston Globe

For example, specific “vocal fry” (or “creaky voice” to linguists) gestures [Vocal fry is a specific vocal technique] are paired with both muted bow-rotations on the strings and quick manipulations of a bendable tube in the percussion, or the use of the waldteufel. Repetitions of the [w] phoneme (a voiced labial-velar approximant) are performed vocally with a very small mouth opening and large vocal cavity, replicated by the flutist just above the embouchure hole and matched in the lower register of violin or viola with pronounced bow vibrato at the same speed, or mixed with the wah-wah of the vibra-tone. By creating rhythmic simultaneities of sounds that approximate the Mouthpiece vocal world, my aim is to magnify the shifting fricatives, vocal fry, whistles, sung tones, and ejectives to create a more varied (and more quickly varying) texture than a single mouth would be able to accomplish.

My work also aims to address contemporary social issues. In this regard, I have worked closely with a new initiative of ONE Landscape. This organization is an outgrowth of the Shillim Institute which is 3,500 acres of a super biodiverse landscape in the Western Ghats mountain region in Maharashtra, India, and designated as an UNESCO hotspot for biodiversity. As part of the research phase for recent and upcoming projects, I spent 10 days doing sound research at the Shillim Foundation in Maharashtra, and worked with expert sound engineer and designer Joel Gordon to produce onsite bio-acoustic recordings that captured the sounds of the region, which I accessed for both for inspiration and as actual sonic structures. There are at least 325 globally threatened species in the Western Ghats, 6000 species of insects and 16 bird species endemic to the region, half of which are threatened. I'm incredibly touched by the Foundation’s mission to intersect the arts and ecological conservation in order for us to deepen our understanding and appreciation of our home, this planet.

Selections from my writing on this research follow:

One month after returning from the Shillim Institute, situated in the Western Ghats mountain region in Maharashtra, India, I created 28 species of imaginary birds…Back home, the imagined birds appeared together, all at once, and with each one, I noticed the range of possible sounds that they could make, and the boundary of their vocal identity.

When I created these 28 species, I felt a new relationship to the frequencies of my own voice. Vocal registers and timbres (thin, pressed, creaky, warm, rounded, and so on) became attached to the vocal lives of these new 28. […]I perceived my voice differently then, perhaps due to a kind of “corporeal empathy” with each newly created winged beast.

The new birds gradually became familiar to me, and one day I asked them to work together. […]in each new moment, they made the decision to fuse their individual sound offerings into one forward-moving shape of sound: they were singing together. They were listening to each other.

Aaron Mendonca, a recent graduate of the Harvard School of Design, spoke to me very eloquently about how “sounds can activate biodynamic energy,” including the possibilities for sounds to stimulate regrowth within a damaged old-growth forest. I realize now that the biofeedback process that Aaron described had happened to me. The sounds of the ravine activated a dynamic change in my understanding of what vocal sound production is. […] It’s not the imitation of the sounds themselves, but the manifestation of their qualities within the newly healing and growing organisms.



Yamaguchi Mouthpieces Part 1
Erin Gee, composer and performer Yamaguchi Mouthpieces Part 1 Mouthpiece 1 September 2019, at Roulette Video by Cutting Bird
In the Mouthpiece Series, the voice is an instrument of sound production rather than a vehicle of identity.
Mouthpiece 28
performed by TAK ensemble: Laura Cocks (flute), Carlos Cordeiro (clarinet), Marina Kifferstein (violin), Ellery Trafford (percussion), & Charlotte Mundy (voice) Mouthpiece 28 by Erin Gee (2016) video curated by Celeste Oram Publisher @ Schott #PSNY Purchase Score @ Record Label @ #TAK editions Purchase Digital/CD [Cat#] @ recorded by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio mixed by David Bird mastered by Chris Botta View the beautifully produced music video of this piece: • Erin Gee: Mouthpi... 00:00 Mouthpiece 28 09:28 Performance Notes uploaded with permission from Erin Gee, TAK ensemble, Schott PSNY, & TAK editions This video is protected by copyright and/or related rights. Viewing and sharing this link is permitted only for non-commercial uses
from Sleep Opera

Whitney Live Performance with Colin Gee

Mouthpiece X
Live recording. Enregistré par la RTS - Espace 2 le 4 avril 2019 à la salle communale de Plainpalais, Genève. Festival Archipel. Erin Gee, voix Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain NEC. Susanne Peters, flûte Jean-François Lehmann, clarinette Mathilde Bigler, basson Guillaume Copt, trombone Marie Schwab, alto Esther Lefevbre, violoncelle Noëlle Reymond, contrebasse Maxime Favrod et Miguel Angel Garcia Martin, percussions Antoine Françoise, direction Thierry Simonot, amplification
The “supermouth” concept: the voice and ensemble create a vocal-like entity that surpasses the abilities of each alone.
from the Archipel Festival, Geneva 2019
Photo by François Volpe from the Archipel Festival 2019
from Shillim Institute
After doing sound research in a mountain region of India, I created 28 species of imaginary birds and began to feel a new relationship to the frequencies of my own voice.


from Shillim Institute

from Shillim Institute