Vox Humana

Imaginative and inspired use of the human voice to make modernist compositions by Leo Kupper on his Digital Voices (POGUS PRODUCTIONS P21060-2). Kupper is from the Belgian school of electro-acoustic composition and founded an important studio there, besides having worked with Henri Pousseur. The voices of Barbara Zanichelli, Anna Maria Kieffer and Nicholas Isherwood are all to the fore in these works, even when electronic music is involved; and while some studio technique is involved to enhance the voices (overdubbing, maybe a little reverb), much of the creative artistry is in their powerful singing, speech, and other vocal gymnastics they perform. Zanichelli turns in a sort of super-mutated birdsong catalogue on ‘Aviformes’, in ways which would make Olivier Messiaen glow with quiet pride. Kieffer sings and murmurs with overdubs of herself on the four parts of ‘Kamana’, along with a rich electro-acoustic backdrop woven by Kupper from a carefully-selected range of sources. ‘Kamana’ seems to be neither speech nor singing – Kieffer’s “vocal expressions” are remarkably fluid and agile. The suites ‘Paroles Sur Lèvres’ and ‘Paroles Sur Langue’ are presented as a connected “diptych”, and in these the electronic music is foregrounded; the human voice elements provide a sort of subliminal church choir effect in among the dramatic electronic and percussion music, creating a near-surreal impression. The intoning basso-profundo cantor on Track 18 is particularly stirring, reminiscent of a Russian Orthodox high priest. No less spiritually moving is ‘Lumière Sans Ombre’, which uses recordings of Slavic liturgical chant and the bass vocals of Isherwood with its burnt sienna-styled electronic music. The vocal-heavy CD is divided in two by the track in the middle, where the composer plays the santur and arrives at a species of warped Persian soundtrack music. The release arrives with a chunky full-colour booklet of notes, images and photos, and Kupper is given ample room to describe his compositional technique and methodology, and while this may give the impression that Digital Voices is a rather process-based work, Kupper’s intentions are in fact to keep the music as “abstract” as possible, and thereby arrive at an international language of spirituality. He is very articulate and passionate about the expressive and emotive possibilities of the human voice, and for those who seek more of it, a related record Ways Of The Voice can be found on this same label.

Dag Rosenqvist is one of the Swedish melancholic types who has provided some memorable moments of wistful sorrow in ambient music form as Jasper TX. Here he is teamed up with Aaron Martin from Topeka, and the duo call themselves From The Mouth Of The Sun on their debut album Woven Tide (EXPERIMEDIA EXPCD021). It’s a mixture of mournful chords and swelling string sections, aligned with somewhat more “atmospheric” sounds to produce pleasing blends. Most of it resembles rather sentimental soundtrack music from a Norwegian arthouse movie I just made up, about a young woman who falls in love with frogs in the snow, but I liked ‘Color Loss’ where the balance between the melodic and the abstract feels just about right.

Errors Of The Human Body (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 140) really is a soundtrack album, for a German feature film made by Eron Sheean, but this CD and double LP was composed by the Australian Anthony Pateras. He’s got a small chamber ensemble with him (strings, woodwinds and brass) and a percussion group, although a good deal of the music is based around the piano, organ and electronics work of Pateras. I’ve heard one or two of the insane and energetic electronic records he’s made for this label when teamed up with Robin Fox, but this is nothing like those disjunctive roman candles. Sober and restrained, EOTHB is a studied exploration of different tones and textures, with minimalist arrangements that emphasise mood and atmosphere. It’s like generic soundtrack music for an intellectual thriller, only given a vaguely “experimental” slant. Technically flawless on the surface, and the playing and production have an attractive polished sheen. I found some of the pieces a bit shapeless and unfinished, but perhaps the aim is to leave the listener hanging in a state of perplexed expectancy. Each track almost ends with a virtual question mark.

We received a bundle of items on 16 February 2012, including some vinyl, from the publishing wing of the American independent organisation 23five, but for today here’s an excellent CD by Helmut Schäfer called Thought Provoking III (23FIVE 017). This is the first I heard from Schäfer, and it seems this Austrian chap has a reputation for uncompromising and near-brutal electronic music performances, but this release is uncharacteristically quiet. Eerie, understated, but positively rigid with tension and bristling with excitement, this composition is an unusual performance/installation/composition realised partly in performance in a church, and partly at Helmut’s own home. On this 2006 recording (and incidentally only the third time the work has ever been performed), he’s joined by the violinist Elisabeth Gmeiner and the percussionist Will Guthrie. The first thing to note is we shouldn’t really think of it as a musical performance. It’s mostly process sounds created by organ pipes, said pipes being in the personal possession of Helmut Schäfer and laid on the floor of his house while he was “recuperating” them. When he puts hair dryers at the mouths of the pipes and switches them on, they blow air along the pipes and interesting resonant sounds emerge. He adds live electronic processing to this set-up, and the contributions of Gmeiner and Guthrie are likewise captured within that processing field, such that their strings and percussive blows are also drenched in the resonant atmosphere. According to Guthrie, nobody really had to do very much playing at all – the pipes were doing all the work. It is utterly compelling music, with plenty of incident and action (none of your reduced improv here thanks) and shot through with a core of inner blackness that means Thought Provoking III exudes a heavy vibe of brimstone and brooding. Acoustic industrial music, almost. Other recent experimental types come to my mind who have dabbled with the organ pipes or the church organ, and usually come off the worst, but Schäfer is clearly the sort of fearless larger-then-life personality who wrestles crocodiles just for fun, and he masters the pipes in like manner. I mention the crocodile because this particular set-up reminds me of the music of Yoshi Wada, and while Wada is strong on your basic resonant acoustics and gigantic pipes, his uplifting and joyous music is nowhere near as dark as this particular blackened groaner. Next time I’m having a nightmare about vultures gnawing my liver, I’ll know what music to use as a suitable backdrop. Purchase now to bathe your sinful soul in 24 minutes of breathy doom, and as an added bonus you get ‘Averaging Down 20XX’, a piece by that well-known sonic ogre of noise Zbigniew Karkowski which he made using Thought Provoking III as a sound source. A double dose of very unique and powerful art music.