Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Remembering a Rapturous Annual Brooklyn Festival of Cutting-Edge Vocal Music

The annual Resonant Bodies Festival of avant garde vocal music ran from 2013 to 2019 at Roulette, and had just begun to branch out to other major cities when the lockdown crushed the performing arts throughout most of the world. This blog was there for the initial festival, and subsequent editions matched that year’s outside-the-box sensibility. Roulette’s vast archive still exists, and presumably everything from those often riveting performances was recorded. Let’s hope that there’s been enough resistance to the lockdown, and enough talent left in New York this fall to resume the series; if not, there’s a fantastic live compilation album featuring some of the highlights from over the years streaming at Bandcamp.

The lineup here is a who’s who of some of the most formidable new-music vocal talent out there. As was often the case with the series itself, all of the singers here are women, most of them composer-performers playing and singing solo. All but two of the tracks are from the festival.

Charmaine Lee‘s Littorals makes an apt opener. Her shtick is that she uses all the sounds in the international phonetic alphabet, plus some that may not have symbols. Part human beatbox, part devious infant, part comic, her solo performance will leave you in stitches. It sounds as if the mic is inside her mouth for much of this. This might be the funniest track anyone’s released this year.

Julia Bullock brings a beefy, soul-inspired vibrato to John Cage’s She is Asleep, Milena Gligić supplying muted, percussive microtones under the piano lid. Pamela Z’s highly processed solo diptych Quatre Couches/Badagada spins an increasingly agitated pastiche through a funhouse mirror.

Backed by clarinetist Campbell MacDonald, Sarah Maria Sun delivers Thierry Tidrow‘s grisly murder ballad Die Flamme, Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire recast as arsonist. Tony Arnold nimbly negotiates the multiple voices and disjointedly demanding extended technique of Jason Eckardt’s Dithyramb.

Arooj Aftab joins forces with pianist Vijay Iyer and bassist Shahzad Ismaily for En Route to Unfriending, a slowly unwinding, ghazal-inspired, melancholy tour de force from the 2017 festival. Iyer’s gently insistent staccato, evoking the ringing of a santoor, is masterful.

The title of Kamala Sankaram‘s slowly crescendoing solo electroacoustic piece Ololyga reflects a shrieking mourning ritual practiced in ancient Greece, which men reputedly scared off all the guys. Needless to say, the Bombay Rickey frontwoman pulls out all the stops with her five-octave range.

Another solo electroacoustic performance, Caroline Shaw‘s diptych Rise/Other Song is considerably calmer, with a gently incantatory quality. Gelsey Bell‘s Feedback Belly is one of the more imaginative and intense pieces here, drawing on her battle with the waves of pain she experienced during a long battle with endometriosis. “If there’s anything you take away from this, please take women’s pain seriously. There is nothing like having a women’s disease to radicalize a feminist in this incredibly misogynistic health system,” she relates in the album’s extensive, colorful liner notes. Manipulating feedback from a Fender amp inside a metal canister hidden under her oversize dress, Bell builds a strangely rapt, dynamically shifting atmosphere punctuated by pulsing electronic grit.

Duo Cortona – vocalist Rachel Calloway and violinist/vocalist Ari Streisfeld – perform Amadeus Regucera‘s relationship drama If Only After You Then Me, beginning furtively and ripping through many moments of franticness and sheer terror. The iconic Lucy Shelton sings a dynamically impassioned take of Susan Botti‘s Listen, My Heart, a setting of a comforting Rabindrath Tagore poem, accompanying herself energetically on singing bowls and metal percussion.

Anaïs Maviel plays spiky, circling ngoni on In the Garden, a hypnotically moody, masterfully melismatic retelling of the Garden of Eden myth. The album’s closing epic is Sofia Jernberg’s One Pitch: Birds for Distortion and Mouth Synthesizers. Is she going to be able to hold up through seventeen minutes of nonstop, increasingly rigorous falsetto birdsong-like motives…let alone without a break for water? No spoilers!

April 29, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Floating Downstream and Up with Eve Beglarian

Plenty of artists have found their muse in the Mississippi. About eighteen months ago, composer Eve Beglarian took a camping trek down the entire length of the river, which gave her more than enough inspiration for an entire concert worth of material. Last night’s performance at the East Village’s Wild Project (part of this year’s dizzyingly diverse Avant Festival) was less a suite than a loosely thematic cycle of jawdroppingly eclectic, smartly conceived, relatively short chamber works for voice, violin, piano, electronics and sometimes all of that at once. In a word, wow. As far as emotional terrain is concerned, the pieces in her new Songs from the River collection run the gamut from hopeful, to anxious, to stormy, to blissfully peaceful. Stylistically, as could be expected from Beglarian, they’re all over the place, and so much better for that. She explained that one particular segment mixed New Orleans motifs with plainchant and a little Bach – she could have added “because I can” and everybody in the sold-out theatre would have nodded their approval.

This concert was particularly special in that Beglarian was part of the performance, lending her unselfconsciously warm, uncluttered mezzo-soprano to the lush, meticulously choreographed voices of the Ekmeles Ensemble (Megan Schubert, Rachel Calloway, Eric S. Brenner and Jeffrey Gavett) alongside Ana Milosavljevic on violin and Vicky Chow on piano. The twelve pieces on program shared an attention to subtle timbral details, uncompromising originality and embrace of all available genres. Watchin Beglarian vividly reassert her command of idioms including but not limited to circular choral counterpoint, neoromantic piano, ambient electronics and violin-and-voice ethereality was literally breathtaking and not a little suspenseful: it was impossible to have any idea of where the music would go next. A Hurricane Katrina eulogy of sorts riffed on “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” not as savagely as the Ted Hearne classic, but as it crescendoed and the phrase coalesced in the mix, it was pretty close. A hopeful, unsentimentally bucolic interlude illustrated how where Beglarian expected to find twisted meth-heads, she found a small town (population less than 200) that enjoyed sharing its ice cream instead. The most hypnotic of the segments was an echoey electroacoustic mashup of water flowing over a dam augmented by Milosavljevic’s elegantly minimalistic violin. The most gripping was a depiction of deep-water currents, which Chow made look easy even though its turbulent, forceful ripples were anything but: Water Music for a new century. The most captivating of the vocal passages set an eerily fluttering, disembodied rondo making its way through the upper registers, completely gothic if not particularly southern.

And the tunes were full of simple, impactful hooks! PBS, or the world of indie film are the obvious destinations for a lot of the material on the program. Beglarian may have made a name for herself on the outskirts of the mainstream, but so much of the music on last night’s bill found itself in perfect balance between cutting-edge and catchy. Beglarian’s music is next featured in New York on March 2 at 8 PM at the Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy, 26 W 84th St., with the art song duo Two Sides Sounding performing“A Coney Island of the Mind,” comprising music and images inspired by that Brooklyn neighborhood with music by Beglarian, Gilda Lyons, and Erik Moe and dramaturgy by Kelley Rourke.

February 18, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment