Monday, October 13, 2014

Electrovoxtronica: Pamela Z at the GSC Performance Space, 10/10/14

Electrovoxtronica – that’s my coined word for this genre of electronic music based almost exclusively on one’s voice. I got there a little late (more on that later), so I didn’t hear the entire concert. However, two numbers are particularly worth mentioning.

The first was an untitled piece that began with birdcalls. I thought at first that she actually had recorded birds on her sampler, but then she sang a couple of nonsense phrases, sampled them, and slowly sped them up – resulting in more of the same birds. Scattered laughter and applause in the audience (they’d obviously all been fooled the same as I had) and the piece continued, more seriously. Layers of birdcalls intermingled with melodic material (all wordless), building to a sonic climax. Abrupt silence, with a couple more birdsongs, and it was over. The final stillness seemed an extension of the wild sounds before.

The second piece I found intriguing was a remix: a Meredith Monk cover tune (“Scared Song”). A lot of Monk’s work has minimal (or nonsense) words chosen for their sounds rather than their meaning, though surrealistic meanings emerge from the sounds. “Scared Song” is no exception to this rule; the words merely tell that three unnamed people are scared for some unknown reason. In this remix, that doesn’t occur until half-way through; by that time it may be that they’re scared of experiencing the masses of sound that have been building up to this point. Monk’s original has some instrumentals; Ms. Z’s remix is almost entirely built of layers of her own voice, though with a brief snippet of piano near the end. This was the only actual “instrument” I heard during the concert.

Part of the experience of the music was the performance. Ms. Z seemed to be continuously ready to break out into a balletic dance, gracefully swaying or fluidly moving her hands and arms. This choreography is necessary for the music. Most of her gestures were directed at a small, boxlike electronic device on the stage, set on a stand. After the concert, I took a closer look at it, and found it to be emitting a (quiet but discernable) high-pitched whine; it was an echolocator, the electronic trigger for her various samples and effects. It was both an enhancement of the experience of the music, and the instrument with which much of the music was played.

Earlier in the evening (this is the reason I got to Pamela Z’s concert late), I’d been at the open mike at Woodland Park Presbyterian Church. As usual, the acoustics were spectacular, and there was a longer than usual line-up of musicians playing. One highlight this time was the well-known Seattle singer/songwriter Jim Page, some of whose oddly minimalist songs compositionally recall Steve Reich and Terry Riley as much as they do "vocalist with a guitar". He did a song protesting Columbus; good for Indigenous Peoples Day. Another highlight was a (mostly) a capella group, “The Drunken Maidens”, who sang English and American folk songs in scintillating four-part harmony (though maybe with too much spoken silliness between songs, based on the name of their group). Also, Jeremy Hepp’s piano pieces were beautiful as always (Windham Hill but much, much more interesting). I recommend this open mike for any musician, from traditional to experimental to pop, who wants to hang out with other musicians and hear how his/her music sounds in a really great acoustic space. It’s on the second Friday of every month; look it up if you’re in Seattle.

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