artist statement


© Kaia Means

© Kaia Means


bio   •   artist statement   •   list of works   •   performance repertoire   •   CV

I am a composer-performer. Voice is my primary instrument, but I also play and utilize many other instruments, both acoustic and electronic. I have sung and organized sound as long as I can remember. I am classically trained in music composition and opera, but have used my skills in the service of experimental work with technology, with performance, and for theater, film and installations.

My parents were political scientists, and we traveled extensively when I was growing up. We lived in the US, Norway, Canada, and Malaysia, and I remember being witness to violence both personal and systemic. The assassination of John F. Kennedy awakened me, as a very young child, to the strange politics of the world. Later, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy affected me greatly. After my graduation from high-school in Canada, through my work at a rape crisis center in Toronto, Ontario, I was persistently reminded of the many silent injustices not necessarily newsworthy.

My artistic quest has been to give voice to things that have been silenced and forgotten – from entrenched violence against women to the destruction of our eco-structure and the dissolution of civil rights. I trained at the University of Washington, San Francisco Conservatory, and Manhattan School of Music, and culminated my operatic studies with an apprenticeship at the Santa Fe Opera.

I have been fortunate to work with many prominent and experimental composers. I was the featured soprano soloist in Philip Glass and Robert Wilsons Einstein on the Beach in the 1992 world tour; in Pope Joan, a dance-opera by Anne LeBaron; and in Agora, a one-woman opera for voice and electronics by Natasha Barrett. I have appeared as a soloist with the Netherlands Dance Theater, the San Francisco Symphony, the Stuttgart Philharmonic, and the Oslo Sinfonietta, and have recorded for CRI, Nonesuch, Koch, Deep Listening, Eurydice, Aurora, Point and New World.

To extend the possibilities of my voice, I started to create a new repertoire for voice and electronics. My personal encounters with violence led me, I think subliminally, to work with the acoustic sounds of substances often used to shape and control our environment: metal, stone, explosives, construction sites. I have been consistently interested in the uncomfortable juxtaposition of vulnerable human bodies and hearts with the instruments of control in our physical world. My electronic compositions sample and manipulate this reality.

I have created works such as Elegy: for Gaza about the bombing of Palestine, Echo-Systems about the sustainability of the earth’s water supply, and a collaborative multi-media work Welcome to Paradise: A Requiem about detainment, militarism, and groupthink. HUT #6/MiniBo was a collaborative work that focused on economic and environmental sustainability by occupying the lobby of the Norwegian Opera House for a week with a living performance installation run on green energy sources. I am currently working on an opera about Patricia Isasa, a human rights activist who was detained during Argentina’s dirty wars and in 2009 won a 33-year legal battle to find and prosecute her torturers.

My musical role models and inspirations have come from a wide variety of sources, from the operatic lineage of Cathy Berberian to the ideals and passion of Odetta and the electronic experimentation of Pauline Oliveros. Through their examples I have dared to combine various types of expression and experiment freely. I have been most interested in creating works for voice, new music theater, and video, with a special emphasis on small-scale opera, cross-disciplinary work, and work utilizing interactive technologies. While my work ranges in form and format, the thread through all of it is the human voice, and the power that giving voice has to change events. My wish is to cultivate an expressive voice as a literal and metaphorical tool in the mission to use my role as an artist to bear witness – to reveal and to heal.

Kristin Norderval