Odeya, could you tell us about your album, Vougheauxyice, and where we can find it?
ON: Vougheauxyice, pronounced Voice, is an album I released a year ago of composition and improvisations for solo voice. My music is extremely experiential with a strong performative element, so it took a long time to figure out the best way to capture this work on a recording. I was searching for locations that had natural resonant acoustics so most of the pieces were recorded in a house in Joshua Tree and one in an aqueduct. There is also no editing, added effects or panning on the album, everything you hear is the space, the voice against the microphone and the movement of the body in the room. In this album I really try to show the range of vocal expression, unabridged. It is best experienced listening to it from beginning to end laying on the ground with your eyes closed and allowing yourself to journey with it. Vougheauxyice can be found on iTunes and Amazon as well as on my Bandcamp page.
What led both of you to collaborate for this performance?
GB: I organized a concert back in 2011 where Odeya, myself, and Maria Stankova all did solo sets. From then on, I’ve been an Odeya superfan, wishing on multiple occasions that she lived in New York so that we could work on projects together. Often when I become enamored with someone’s voice and musicality, my first instinct is that I want to sing with them – just listening is not enough! So when Odeya invited me to join her for this show, I jumped at the opportunity. I had originally conceived of Spent Horizons, which is the only duet we’ll do together, over a year ago for me and another player but had never taken the time to formalize the idea. When Odeya mentioned this performance, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally perform the piece.
Your program concluded with the duo premiere of Bell’s Spent Horizons, are there any plans for future duo collaborations?
GB: No plans. But plenty of dreams. We’ve talked about touring together. And I’ll be in southern California this summer for a show I’m a part of, Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet, so we’re starting to talk about putting something together then.
Odeya, could you describe the compositional process behind A Solo Voice? You describe the piece as “aiming to disassociate the voice from its traditional attributes and create a new logic of song that is not only heard but seen through movement,” can you tell us more about the work’s “new logic of song” and its relationship to traditional musical conceptions of song?
ON: A Solo Voice is a series of several pieces woven together. It is always in flux depending on the performance and the space. The pieces have road maps, points of arrival along an arc, certain techniques, moods and concepts I use, but within that map there is much improvisation on the theme. I am interested in an organic flow of the work, where I embody my ideas and present it in a fluid manner. That fluidity gathers everything that I premeditated on, but also what I feel in the moment, which leaves it always open to change.
When we think of a song we usually think of a verse and chorus, we think of lyrics, melody, rhythm and sometimes harmony. In my work I don’t think of structure in that way. Rhythm for me is not something I ever want to count, its something I feel. I let my breath and my body dictate my phrasing and timing. I use sounds that are textures and atypical to the voice. My body is used to generate various sounds by shifting in different ways and letting it lead me on the path of emotional expression, feeling integration. Movement is not used as representation, it is the moving force of the sound. When I perform I really see the sound moving around me, I have strong visualizations of its energy through space and the physicality allows the audience to see it too. This kind of disorientation, with things sounding, moving, changing, allows for a “new logic of song.” There is an arc, and attention to composition, but the approach is different, leaving the individual needing to reorganize the song they hear for themselves.
Gelsey, could you also describe your compositional approach? Could you further describe a music constituted by “foraging for songs in an overgrown jungle of vocal quirks and oddities”? Are there aesthetic precedents that informed the work?
GB: Since I knew Odeya would be singing her A Solo Voice, I decided to write some music for the solo voice to match that tone, something I have actually only done a little bit of in the past. Though I have a lot of solo music, I almost always have a particular instrument or spatial arrangement that I am reacting to. For instance, despite the fact that my song cycle Bathroom Songs is for the instrumentation of a solo voice, so much of that music is about reacting to the architecture of the bathroom, and so it ends up being a very different kind of compositional experience. For this concert setting, the challenge has been to not have particular spatial or instrumental considerations to react to. Instead the music comes from the repertoire of vocal gestures that I carry with me. I find that I am reacting to the impulses of my body and the dynamics of energetic force (for lack of a better term) in a particular kind of concentrated focus. (For the duet Spent Horizons, a great deal of the piece is about the two of us reacting to each other and then continuing to perform the music we create together beyond that interaction.) As a singer that has explored and works in various genres, extended techniques, and compositional structures, my repertoire can feel like a kind of jungle… at least for me. There are so many aesthetic precedents for how I sing and how I hear, I wouldn’t know where to start – from Joan La Barbara’s solo vocal work to the melodies of traditional British folk songs to noisy electronic pop music from the last few decades to Pauline Oliveros’s deep listening practices. The solo songs that I’m performing are a stab at bringing some coherence to all these different paths – not as a self-conscious pastiche, but as a kind of music that feels authentic to all of my musical experiences. This makes it feel like a kind of journey, the action of foraging, at least for me. They also draw on other things that I’ve been working on recently. For instance, I just finished working on a radio piece with Gregory Whitehead about American torture practices that will air in Australia in May. For that piece, I generated a great deal of improvised material that has not necessarily found its way into the final piece, so I’ve been using some of it for these pieces instead.