Vox Humana: Alfred Wolfsohn’s Experiments in Extension of Human Vocal Range

Have you ever considered what the full range of tone and pitch the human voice is? Have you wondered if there was some latent singing ability that all people were capable of achieving? Alfred Wolfsohn was inspired to explore such questions about vocal range after serving in the World War I. Haunted by cries on the battlefield and suffering from post-traumatic stress, he began experiments as a form of therapy. Alternating between vocal and instrumental (including piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass) exercises, Vox Humana not only showcases the potential vocal range of the human voice, but also the various expressive timbres and tone qualities that can be utilized. His experiments push the range of the human voice to nine octaves (two more than the piano!) and demonstrate an impressive, avant-garde flexibility.
– Folkways Records

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Wolfsohn’s experiences and the way that he links his own history with the human voice echo those of another artist who sought to extend the possibilities of expression afforded by the body – Henri Chopin, though the result and the rationale are quite different.

 

Demonstration of Different Colorations on Same Notes Five F.

by Alfred Woldsohn

Here is a quote from Wolfsohn, included in an introduction “The Human Voice” one of the few published documents or recordings  of his research:

Here I want to stress once more that when I speak of singing, I do not consider this to be an artistic exercise, but the possibility, and the means to recognize oneself, and to transform this recognition into conscious life. Singing is, however, the primeval field of the application of music, the gift, bestowed on everyone by nature in order to express himself. For the communication between mankind takes place through language, which does not just consist of a neutral combination of sounds, but is used in an up and down of a musical movement. In my attempt to discover the secret of singing, nothing has compensated me more for all my searching and worrying than the discovery that, that which I had one sidedly understood as expression in its symbolic and spiritual sense, had to be taken in its literal meaning. I found that the sound of the human voice, gained its fullest expression exactly at the point, when the singing person, having found the right balance of concentration and attention, could express it bodily. However simple it may sound, important are only three factors which constitute the elements of singing: concentration, intensity and, as a result thereof, expression. Whoever is convinced, like me, that exactly the simplest things in life, contain the most complicated problems, also knows that the mastery thereof, leads to the desired goal.
– Alfred Wolfsohn

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