Outsound Music Summit: Face Music

The concert portion of the Outsound Music Summit began on Wednesday with an evening entitled “Face Music.” The four solo performances all centered around voice, but more on unusual uses of the voice and the face for making musical sounds than on traditional singing. Within this context, each of the performances was quite different.

[Theresa Wong. Photo: PeterBKaars.com. (Click image to enlarge.)]

Theresa Wong opened the concert by stepping out in front of the stage with only a microphone. At first it seemed like she was just standing still, but gradually one could hear the very subtle vocal sounds she was making. These soon grew into loud clicks, slurps and other percussive voice sounds, which she played around with for some time. There was a section where she used a mixture of noises and slowly descending squeaks reminded me Xenkis’ 1950s electronic compositions. Her second piece, which featured voice and cello, was more lyrical, with rich high voiced sounds (closer to singing) against more inharmonic cello overtones.

[Joseph Rosenzweig. Photo: PeterBKaars.com. (Click image to enlarge.)]

Joseph Rosenzweig used his voice to drive various electronic processes. For the first part of the set, he mostly used breath sounds, which were processed with distortion and other effects that became quite loud and intense. There were also moments that were more subtle, with softer metallic sounds behind the voice. As his vocalizations grew more complex, some parts began to take on the sound of speech, and there were moments while watching him that it seemed he was actually “speaking” the amplified electronic sounds. Over time, the arrangement grew to include multiple layers with percussive effects on more traditionally voiced sounds that feed into buzzing short loops and long drones of FM-like bell sounds – at this point, the electronic parts began to separate from the vocal source and take on a life of their own, with subtle high sounds, and then a low rumble against high vocalizations.

[Aurora Josephson. Photo: PeterBKaars.com. (Click image to enlarge.)]

Aurora Josephson opened the second half the concert with candles, incantations when led into a performance of John Cage’s Experiences no. 2. The quiet, subdued performance focused more on traditional pitched singing. Experiences no. 2 is in a pentatonic scale and very lyrical, with a folk-song or spiritual quality. It was an oasis of calm, and a great contrast to the performances that preceded and followed.

[Bran…(pos). Photo by CatSynth.]

Bran…(pos) concluded the concert with an intense and theatrical set that probably most fit the term “face music”. He disappeared behind a screen onto which a colorful image of a butterfly was projected. From behind the screen, one could hear disembodied sounds of chewing, crunching, churning, squeaks, pops and other percussion that one can make with the face and mouth – at once they were everyday sounds, but also heightened through amplification and rhythmic placement. After a period of time, the otherwise still video started to glitch, with grainy video images briefly appearing on the screen. After a moment, I realized that this was in fact the face of the artist from behind the screen. Soon, the live video replaced the still images entirely. (From my vantage point, I could actually glimpse the “man behind the curtain” while watching the live video.) The sounds and visuals together gave the impression that he was “eating” the microphone. After a while, soft resonant bell-like sounds emerged in the background behind the face sounds, and gradually loops and rhythms began to emerge as well as the facial gestures in the video grew more frantic. There was a moment when the “face music” seemed to stop leaving only a drone of pure synthesizer sounds, after which Bran…(pos) returned with a more traditional voice sound. The background elements grew more industrial, with strong resonances the morphed into large bells. The set ended in a visual of melting red.

You can see a video of Bran…(pos) below:

The overall trajectory of the concert was good, as was the contrast, ranging from Theresa Wong’s nearly silent and unaccompanied opening to Bran…(pos)’s frenetic and gear-intensive end.

The Outsound Music Summit continues through Saturday evening with additional concerts. Look for more reviews here, or follow @catsynth for live tweets.