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John Cage Award 2016: Joan La Barbara Receives $50,000 from Foundation for Contemporary Arts

By Steve Nagel s.nagel@classicalite.com on Feb 02, 2016 08:18 AM EST

On January 19th, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts announced its 2016 award recipients. Although this year the FCA has honored a series of artists in a variety of categories and disciplines, perhaps the most prestigious of FCA's awards, the John Cage Award, was presented to composer and sound artist Joan La Barbara. The biennial award, which is accompanied by a $50,000 prize from the FCA, is awarded to visionary artists and composers who reflect the "spirit of John Cage". Joan La Barbara receives the $50,000 cash prize as per the John Cage Award 2016 for her use of extended vocal technique in both her compositions and premieres of notable works.

Recipients of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts' John Cage Award have traditionally been multi-disciplined artists, predominantly but not necessarily composers. 2014's winner, Phill Niblock, for example, was as known for his filmmaking and videography talents as he was for his minimalist compositions. NewMusicBox noted that the John Cage Award's non-composer recipients have included conceptual artists, visual artists, and digital artists. In Joan La Barbara's case, her lifelong experimentation with the capabilities of the human voice (both in her own compositions and in her collaborations) has earned her the consideration and ultimate acquisition of the sought-after John Cage Award 2016.

Among Joan La Barbara's many sonic achievements are the development of circular singing, multiphonics, ululation, and glottal clicks---adapting each as a viable compositional tool to expand the horizons of composers. Referred to by Bruce Hodges of Discoveries as "a thinking-person's vocalist", Joan La Barbara has employed her limitless vocal palette to the works of Morton Feldman, Philip Glass, and most importantly, John Cage.  Meanwhile, she categorizes much of her own work as "sonic atmospheres".

For these artistic endeavors, Joan La Barbara receives $50,000 from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts as part of the John Cage Award 2016's prize---as much of an honor to the composer with whom La Barbara had previously worked as it is to La Barbara herself. In an artist's statement to the Foundation for Contemporary Arts' website, she expressed her gratitude along with a positive outlook on the future of her art: "As I think of my life as an experiment, I shall continue to explore new situations and hopefully be surprised and delighted by unpredictable results."

Below, you can hear Joan La Barbara sing John Cage's '85 work "Sonnekus" from her 1990 album Singing Through:

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TagsJohn Cage, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Joan La Barbara, John Cage Award, Award