Janice Whaley’s New Model of Music-Making (Annual Reflections Part 2 of 2)

February 29, 2012

(for those you whose devices are not flash enabled, the above music can be heard here)
(for those of you unfamiliar with the music of the Smiths, a brief overview can be found here)

Keeping in mind Monday’s thoughts regarding the need to honor the talents, skills, and resources we already have at our disposal, I’d like to share with you the music of Janice Whaley, a new artist who, I think, presents a powerful model of music making that will be of interest to many of us here in the IPAP community. To my mind, it is a blueprint for what classically-informed performance can be in the twenty-first century.

Specifically, I’d like to talk about The Smiths Project, in which Ms. Whaley re-creates the entire output of seminal ‘80s (and my personal all-time favorite) rock band The Smiths. As Ms. Whaley describes the endeavor:

The music contains no instruments- everything you hear was made using only my voice and basic effects/editing techniques. I use pitch-shift to drop my voice down for bass lines, but otherwise there is no pitch correction involved. Each song contains anywhere between 30-50 layers of vocals and take as many hours to complete over several months. I worked on many songs at once as inspiration struck and time allowed.

The goal was to complete the entire catalog of original Smiths songs by the end of 2010. It was one of the most challenging experiences of my life and I am thrilled to say that I completed my goal- ahead of schedule! This would have been a daunting project just for the music alone, but I was also fitting the music time in around parenting, working, commuting, etc. It was a true labor of love to give up every ounce of free time for a year but it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Thank you for visiting my personal tribute to The Smiths and for cheering me on.

Here are some of the things that I find notable about The Smiths Project:

  • Like classical performances, The Smiths Project plays a pre-composed repertoire. However, unlike the classical model, where the original composition is treated as inviolate, Ms. Whaley shapes the music into something that is wholly idiosyncratic to her instrument (voice), style of performance, and material resources. The music could not exist without the original compositional documents (in this case recordings), but it is never limited by them.
  • Technology is utilized as an aid to musical achievement. It is neither shunned nor used fetishisticly.
  • The sum is greater than its parts, but the parts are pretty great in themselves. Recording the complete Smiths catalog promotes a sense of importance around the music in a way that releasing an album of ‘a cappella Smiths covers’ could not. It turns the music from a novelty into a necessity.  What could have been a gimmick becomes a vital reinterpretation of absolutely essential repertoire.  If we want our music to continue to be heard and appreciated, I think it’s vital to learn how we can each project this type of aura around our work and to take seriously the idea that – even when performing other people’s compositions – we have the power to make statements that are both important and original.

For more on Janice Whaley, including details on her approach to live performance, check out her blog.

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