Soprano, sound artist, and teacher Micaela Tobin is a Los Angeles native currently studying contemporary opera and new music as a graduate student at the California Institute of the Arts. With a background in classical music and opera performance, Micaela is interested in exploring both traditional and extended vocal techniques through the intersection of opera and Noise. In addition to having performed with numerous experimental rock bands in both Seattle and Los Angeles, Micaela has developed her own music and performance project called “White Boy Scream,” in which she extends her operatic style of singing through the use of electronic effects pedals and looping devices. She is releasing her second album, titled Hustle Divine, later this year.
Also an active inter-disciplinary collaborator in the realm of performance art, Micaela has worked as both a composer and vocalist with visual artists, writers, and dancers throughout the West Coast. She is currently finishing up a residency as a composer with Machine Project’s movement workshop, Graceless Ladies.
Micaela received her Bachelor of Arts in music, with a concentration in voice performance, from the Herb Albert School of Music at UCLA. There she had the opportunity to perform several roles in both opera and theatre. Currently, Micaela is in the process of developing her own unique staging of Schoenberg’s Erwartung, and Messiaen’s song cycle, Harawi, to be performed in the spring of 2016.
Passionate about arts education being a vehicle for community building, Micaela has taught voice as a visiting artist for two Los Angeles non-profit organizations, Inner City Arts, and the Cal Arts Partnership Summer Arts program. She currently teaches a full studio of voice students at the Los Angeles Music and Art School.
About her work:
Micaela’s work focuses on using her background in classical voice as a basis to challenge, explore, and build upon contemporary performance practice.
Q&A with Micaela Tobin
What are you interested in investigating through your work?
I aim to explore the ways I can extend my vocal technique into new sonic realms, with an emphasis on its relation to my own body. I’m always trying to feel and hear my voice in new ways. I often try to challenge my own preconceived notions of what sounds beautiful, as a means of expanding the palette of musical (and non-musical) possibilities for my instrument.
That’s a tough question because I really do feel that I’m still honing in on my aesthetic. Since I take influence from so many differing genres, I’m only now starting to successfully reconcile all of these different worlds into my music. I’m now focused enough to channel the chaos and rawness that I value within the genre of Noise, with the melodic, structured qualities of my operatic singing. My newest album investigates a harsher sound-wall effect, into which I weave operatic melodies and lilting, choral harmonies.
Describe your relationship with your work.
I spent a number of years sitting on the surface of the work that I actually needed to be doing. It took some floundering and maturing for me to start thinking critically about my relationship with my own vocal technique, and to realize what I valued and did not value within the culture of opera. I grew up believing that I should be an opera singer mostly because I happened to be good at singing that type of music. But, after my undergrad, I realized that there were elements about it that just didn’t fulfill me.
So, I gave myself permission to explore other genres of music and performance practice. I moved to another city. I lost myself, and eventually, I found myself in a more true way. Now I have never felt stronger and more coherent in my vocal technique, musicality, and ability to navigate different types of music. I am finally able to create my own work without being self-conscious or feeling obligated to fit into a certain genre of singing.
Are you working on anything right now that feels like new ground in your body of work?
Yes! I’ve been exploring microtonal and atonal vocal repertoire, and I’m really interested in being more sensitive to the slightest shifts in grains of sound, and how to make such subtlety cut deep for myself and the listener. In my work with electronics, I’m starting to use a no-input setup, which essentially means that I’m playing with feedback, using it as it’s own voice, which I then relate to mine in real-time, as a kind of counterpoint. I really dig the uncontrollable, wild element of feedback, and I’m obsessed with finding ways to harness its grating sonic character melodically.
What is your advice to younger artists?
My advice would be to let yourself change and evolve. Try not to package yourself into one genre or aesthetic at such a young age. Although it can be comforting to think that you have it all figured out at 18, if you do that, at 28 you may have a painful (yet vital) realization that you’ve missed out on a lot of opportunity to widen your perception and really grow as an artist. However, I really believe that it is never too late to discover new facets of yourself and create new work.