¿What is the Genetic Choir? A Utopian Singing Ensemble

¿What is the Genetic Choir? A Utopian Singing Ensemble




There are very few vocal ensembles in the world that improvise, that compose as a collective, and that work in interdisciplinary projects.  Choirs are usually tight hierarchical structures lead by a conductor; they usually sing composed repertoire; and improvisation and composition are never part of the game. ¿Why so, if the capabilities of the voice and of individual singers are endless? And even more, ¿why haven’t more people in the world attempted to make the most out of the powers of collective singing and collective composition?

“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.” (Thomas Johannsen, leader of the Genetic Choir)

Collective improvisation, though, requires some sort of system, some common principles, that guide both the individuals and the group through the experience. Some improvisational systems offer a packet of “instructions” or “limitations”; some not. The Genetic Choir philosophy is based on genetics:

“Genetics (from the Greek genno γεννώ= give birth) is the science of genes, heredity, and the variation of organisms. 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.”

This genetic approach is only the tip of the iceberg of Johannsen’s reflections about improvisation, which he expresses in his blog “Interdisciplinary Instant Composition” a must-visit place for anyone who has thought or attempted instant composition in music, dance, or any other discipline.

I, myself, as the founder of an ensemble (EEVA) that regularly does group improvisation and some other similar things, was ecstatic to find the Genetic Choir, to read about their philosophy and to listen to their music online (listen here!).

If I were nearby Amsterdam or Utrecht, I would definitely go to their following performance:

The secret life of phrases

The Genetic Choir + improvisation dancers

Amsterdam on March 29th, 2014

Utrecht on March 30th, 2014

More info: here.



  1. Pingback: Greetings from Colombia! | Genetic Choir

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