Vocal Instant Composition

Philosophy / Background

The ambition of the Genetic Choir is to instantly compose, as a group, the music that any given moment asks for. Rather than being conducted, we want to be a choir that organises itself by the musical intelligence and intuition of all the members. Using principles of self-organisation and swarm intelligence, the Genetic Choir – as an organism – is the author and composer of all our music.

The Genetic Choir was started in 2007 out of my interest in the human voice, self-organizing systems in general, and the joy of singing. (who am I?  Look here:  www.thojoh.com)

Although I am leading most of the sessions in terms of the singer’s training, when we are improvising or performing, I am just part of the choir as one of the singers and do not fulfill a special role.

We are looking at the whole range of the human voice, what generally is called ‘extended voice techniques’. But we also enjoy straight and harmonious singing, and whatever sounds we are making, we are always seeking to let the voice be ‘real’ (which actually is quite easy, but sometimes – when performing – feels like the hardest part).

Next to this, developing an understanding of how to work inside a big group of singers is an important part of the training: How to be one ‘agent’ of music amongst many, how to deal with your own desires/tastes/wishes and include them in the whole. We are also training musical principles like working with rhythm and melody, but we always try to keep the system open for any type of music to appear (and not just the known genres).

Please read further below for some more figurative, detailed (and maybe more conclusive) descriptions about the way we work.

The Genetic Choir is a professional & experimental singing ensemble that gives concerts and workshops all over the world and in various types of collaborations and circumstances. Our home city is Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

If you are interested to join us, just follow one of the workshops.

Or contact us by writing an re-mail to info@genetic-choir.org



Evolution is composition.

The genetic reproductive cycle with its simple rules has produced an ecosystem with a huge number of rather well-composed organisms. Given the slow pulse of the reproduction cycle this has taken a couple of million years, but a process like that can probably be sped up if not genes are the transmitters of information, but our volatile and flexible voices.

Based on the principles of copying and intuitive choice, the idea is to become, as singers, transmitters of sound information that you receive and pass on, and which in the process converges through mutation and natural selection towards a complete sound eco-system, i.e. composition in time.

Genetic Choir sessions and workshops are open for everyone and explicitly inviting both professional singers and beginners alike. The concept we are working from is that the quality of the music will not depend on your virtuoso qualities (though they are very much welcomed!), but on the ability to listen and give yourself over to the existing sound and support it. All patterns and colours of music can arise from this, there are no boundaries in music style, amount of solo vs. group singing or length of the compositions. Everything from opera aria’s to rap riffs can come out of this, from free jazz to colourful melodies to ambient tapestries of sound. The most clear definition of the compositions that we are creating is that they are not predictable, and we are often surprised ourselves by what the moment has in stall for us.

The sessions contain both exploratory individual work and ensemble singing. We are working from a vision on improvisation that believes in constantly finding the right balance in listening, surrendering to ‘what is’ and acting boldly. Letting yourself being taken by the moment and the musical material, while at the same time sustaining exquisite contact with yourself, with your fellow singers, and with the audience.

Note that ‘singing’, for the Genetic Choir includes all conceivable sounds made by the human voice. Beauty arises from the quality of your attention and your sensitive engagement. Great performance depends on the shared attention of everybody present: The amount to which an audience dares to give itself fully in the listening and the amount to which the performers dare to listen into the moment and lead the way.

Here some people and ‘bodies of knowlegde’ that have inspired / keep inspiring me in shaping the work with the Genetic Choir:
Jonathan Hart Makwaia, Phil Minton, Izidor Leitinger, Haim Isaacs, Nick Hobbs, Enrique Pardo, Linda Wise, The Lichtenberger Method, Ingrid Voermans, The Roy Hart Voice Work, Aikido & life in general.

Examples of what we are doing:

Exploration of the different phenotypes that are part of the vocal soundgene-pool:

open sounds (singing with and without the notion of scale / changing register&timbre)
labial sounds & family (lips, tongue, mouth cavity and saliva producing sounds)
breathing sounds + raspy/broken sounds
human language sounds
polyfonic sounds and melodies
pulse, rhythm and polyrhythms

Exploring different modes of producing, copying and mutating:


understanding micro and macro levels of music, and switching between them
mirroring (exact copy) / 1-2-1-2 and/or simultaneous copying
shedding information, adding information
pacing the reproductive cycle
absorb material, let yourself be changed and (re)produce
find the space = find your voice

We work solo, in couples and small groups to train the basic building blocks and from there move on to the big ensemble work and compositions.

The Genetic Choir has developed a technique that is freeing to the improviser’s mind. No need to be brilliant, clever or original. Relax! You will become part of an ecosystem that is amazingly inventive and self-organising.

No specific singing background is required.

More info on how it works to become part of the choir under About the Genetic Choir or just give yourself up for a workshop.

Thomas Johannsen

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