Meet The Experimental Vocal Artists #5

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Norwegian, all-female Trondheim Voices performed compositions by Mats Gustafsson, Marilyn Mazur, Jon Balke and Christian Wallumrød, among others. Maja K.S. Ratkje and Ståle Storløkken and Helge Sten composed two distinct compositions for this ensemble.

Danish vocal artist Randi Pontoppidan is known for her collaborations with Joëlle Léandre, Trondheim Voices’ Sissel Vera Pettersen and with Danish poet Morten Søndergaard, and as well as an in-demand vocalist in the contemporary classical world. Her meeting with American veteran vocal artist Thomas Buckner is reviewed here. The Viennese sound artist has woven sound samples of Liquid Loft dance company into an impressive work. Israeli Jean Claude Jones edited sound files of 4 Local vocal artists into 18 duets.

Trondheim Voices – Echo Chamber 3.0 / Ekkokammer 3.0 (MNJ, 2020) ****½

 

Echo Chamber is a work-in-progress, written for Trondheim Voices by composer and vocal-artist Maja S. K. Ratkje as a concert performance for the ear. The 2.0 version of this composition was premiered in 2015 and its 3.0 version was recorded in December 2019 and March 2020.

This composition investigates how we relate, conceptualize and remember the human voice, as an expressive mean of communication and a unique instrument – a physical and metaphoric one, a verbal and emotional one, deeply connected to our body and soul. The nine vocalists of Trondheim Voices – Mia Marlen Berg, Siri Gjære, Kari Eskild Havenstrøm, Anita Kaasbøll, Ingrid Lode, Sissel Vera Pettersen, Heidi Skjerve, Torunn Sævik and Tone Åse – tell their own personal experiences with their voices, and what did they wish to express with their voices, in two versions of the composition, English and Norwegian. Their spoken texts were arranged and edited by Ratkje into a coherent script, in a way that all the thoughts and answers crisscrossing, extending, and complimenting each other. Actress-playwright Marianne Meløy added an introduction to the vocalists’ texts.

Ratkje managed to illustrate – sonically and verbally – the crucial liberating and therapeutic experience of finding your own voice, realizing that “this is my voice… I want to linger and linger and linger in it”. The Trondheim Voices ensemble is employed as an imaginative, provocative instrument. The personal thoughts and stories of its vocalists accumulate more nuances and insights about how they began to use their voice as an artistic expression, beginning with lessons from seminal vocalists (Sidsel Endresen and Joni Mitchell are mentioned), through the tasking musical training, and later, the freedom and the physical sensation found through experimenting and improvising with the voice, alone and in a shared experience of Trondheim Voices. The ensemble injects into this composition engaging and irreverent quotes from Mike Oldfield’s pop hit ”Moonlight Shadow”, Marlen Berg’s song ”Searching”, traditional Norwegian wedding march ”Bruremarsj fra Gudbrandsdalen” and the traditional folk song ”Working on a building”.

The Norwegian version worked better for me. The natural melodic phrasing of this intelligible language – for me – intensified the magical abstraction of the human voice as a musical instrument.

Trondheim Voices – Folklore (traditional customs, tales, sayings, dances, or art forms preserved among a people) (Hubro, 2020) ****

 

Folklore was composed for Trondheim Voices by ⅔ of the trio Supersilent – keyboards wizard Ståle Storløkken and guitarist-sound artist Helge Sten (aka Deathprod). Both are married to vocalists – Storløkken to Trondheim Voices’ Tone Åse and Sten to Susanna Wallumrød. Their composition is inspired by medieval rituals and the art of folklore and employs the Trondheim Voices as a living instrument. The wordless voices of the nine vocalists – Sissel Vera Pettersen, Anita Kaasbøll, Tone Åse, Ingrid Lode, Torunn Sævik, Kari Eskild Havenstrøm, Heidi Skjerve, Siri Gjære and Natali Abrahamsen Garner, with minimalist sounds of bells – become one massive microtonal instrument, where acoustic breaths, tones and polyphonic drones and their electronic manipulation are imagined as timeless, chant-like rituals.

Folklore was premiered at the 2018 edition Molde Jazz Festival, with a light design by Ingrid Skanke Høsøien and priestly costumes by Vera Pettersen. It takes the common and informal, generations-old folklorist art and knowledge and transforms it into a moving, cathartic and immersive experience. The untimely mysterious chants, songs, and tales, with their simple, almost raw delivery, sound now like a spiritual, secular liturgy, still seeking the purifying of the soul and healing power, but do not subscribe to any specific faith. Storløkken and Sten embrace the ethereal voices with clever and subtle sound processing that layer these voices into abstract but elaborate, celestial sonic entities, sometimes even using Trondheim Voices as a human church organ.

Randi Pontoppidan & Thomas Buckner – Voicescapes (Chant, 2021) ****

Danish drummer Kresten Osgood invited in 2017 veteran American vocal artist Thomas Buckner, known from his ongoing work with Roscoe Mitchell as well as his work with contemporary composers like Alvin Lucier, Robert Ashley and Christian Wolff, to perform at his Copenhagen’s Monday club. Osgood recommended Buckner to meet Pontoppidan. Buckner went to visit Pontoppidan’s home the day before his performance and both began to sing right away. They sang all morning, ate lunch, and continued to sing all afternoon. Buckner invited Pontoppidan to join his performance with Osgood and the music continued to pour naturally and spontaneously. Buckner returned a year later to perform in the same club and then Pontoppidan arranged a recording weekend at Karmacrew Studio on the beautiful island of Møn.

On the opening piece of Voicescapes, “Greeting”. Pontoppidan sounds as inviting Buckner to explore whimsical Dadaist inventions, in a way that brings to mind the fantastic duo of voice artists Ratkje with Dutch Jaap Blonk (MAJAAP, Kontrans, 2004). But immediately, Pontoppidan and Buckner find their own, balanced, very poetic common ground that rarely seeks acrobatic pathos (“Hide”) and allow each piece to lead organically to the other. Both sound like true kindred spirits, who really don’t need to tell each other what to do or say – literally – and both communicate deeply (listen to “One Mind”) and spiritually (the meditative “Evening” and “Blessing”), on their very own wavelength. And indeed the power of this intimate vocal meeting is in its natural, leisured and restrained flow.

Andreas Berger – Works for Liquid Loft (Ventil, 2020) ****

Liquid Loft is a Viennese dance group that was founded in 2005 by choreographer Chris Haring together with sound artist Andreas Berger, known from his electroacoustic ambient project Glim (music for field recordings, Karate Joe, 2003), dancer Stephanie Cumming and dramaturge Thomas Jelinek. Liquid Lof is inspired by science-fiction literature and cyborg theory. Berger and Haring developed the idiosyncratic sound language of Liquid Loft, which is situated between body, language, movement and sound.

Berger detaches now this musical language furthermore from the bodies of the performers and lets it work on its own. Works for Liquid Loft are based on voice recordings and speech samples of Liquid Loft dancers – only scraps of these samples can be understood or guessed and found footage sounds (from the experimental films Chelsea Girls and Flesh by Andy Warhol, 1966 and 1968), all collected for Liquid Loft four dance works. Now robbed of their syntax and semantics, they become musical building blocks from which Berger arranges nuanced and highly suggestive and somehow disturbing, minimalist- ambient pieces, combined with electronic sounds and field recordings. The 12 short pieces never cease to surprise and impress with their captivating, rich and detailed sounds.

Jean Claude Jone with Meira Asher, Josef Sprinak, Anat Pick & Esti Kenan – Nucleus (Kadima Collective, 2020) ***

 

Nucleus was conceived during the 1st Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in Israel. Improviser Jean Calude Jones asked four vocal artists colleagues – Meira Asher, Josef Sprinzak, Anat Pick and Esti Kenan, with whom he has worked in the past, to send him vocal improvisations. Out of the sound files, sent back and forth between Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Galilee, Jones edited 5 pieces with 18 duets, some with himself strumming the lap-Spanish guitar, some between the vocal artists themselves most would never happen without Jones, and some for a good reason. Jones’ insistence to link these distinct vocal artists only emphasizes his own eccentric and restless sonic vision, and the eccentricity of the original improvisations. It works on the second piece when Kenan’s voice is edited with the voices of Sprinzak, Asher and Pick and on the fourth pieces when Pick’s urgent, gibberish chants are edited with the voices of Sprinzak and Kenan and the guitar of Jones, but on the respect of the pieces the lack of live, real-time interaction is evident. 

 

Revisit the past editions of the “Meet the Experimental Vocalists” here.

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