Hasco Duo (Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, soprano, and Jesse Langen, guitars) releases their debut recording of innovative music for voice and guitar. Exploring textures incorporating electric guitars, effects, and extended techniques, Hasco Duo is at the vanguard of repertoire expansion for their instrumentation.
|Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst...
Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst...
|Tinta Roja, Tinta Negra / Red Ink, Black Ink
Tinta Roja, Tinta Negra / Red Ink, Black Ink
Voice and guitar ensemble Hasco Duo (Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, soprano, and Jesse Langen, guitars) experiments with traditional roles, using the conventional storytelling model of text setting as a launching pad to push boundaries into unconventional territory. “The Same Old Wonder” is a document of a selection of exploratory repertoire that they have been instrumental in bringing to life.
Ravi Kittappa’s Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst… for voice and electric guitar opens the album with a sense of childlike play. The electric guitar lightly taps pitches along the string with a pick, and the voice imitates, as if the two are discovering ways of producing sound together at the same time. The title quotes an ominous passage from Friedrich Nietzche’s seminal work, Beyond Good and Evil (translated loosely as, “when one stares into the abyss, the abyss also stares back”). After the opening, Kittappa and Hasco bring us down into that abyss, with heavily reverberant sustained textures facilitated by Langen’s battery of effects. DeBoer Bartlett ventures into melismatic flights accompanied by a guitar riff that grows more distorted and disjointed as it ascends in register. The work closes in stasis as a wavering tone flat lines and fades out.
The duo’s own composition Wildflower brings the album more towards the storytelling side of their work, with DeBoer Bartlett’s modal melody accompanied by ambient halos of sound from Langen’s guitar, which become more layered over the course of the song. Langen assumes the melodic role briefly midway through, with a sound shrouded in delays and slight pitch bending. Each time the vocal melody returns, Langen varies his accompaniment, taking us on a journey through several sonic approaches to electric guitar effects. Wildflower has a cinematic quality — an earnest, grounded folk song asks the questions, “Who am I?”, “Who loves me?”, amidst a swirl of unmoored sounds.
Morgan Krauss’ pallid tongues melds the intense urgency of spoken word with a dense, synthetically distorted electric guitar part. The first three minutes of the work tumble forward breathlessly, bringing us inside a forceful and agitated protagonist’s mind. The texture pauses for a moment while the voice breaks the fourth wall to speak words directly to the listener: “Sometimes we have to avoid thinking about the problems life presents. Otherwise we’d suffocate. Banality is sometimes striking.” The subsequent section features chords played with a reverse effect that fade in as they accumulate pitches while texts are uttered in broken syllables, emphasizing the intimacy of individual consonants and sibilants.
Luis Fernando Amaya’s Tinta Roja, Tinta Negra / Red Ink, Black Ink moves in slow motion, communing with “ancient voices, silenced and lost to perpetuity.” In the opening of the work, sustained tones are passed back and forth between guitar with an ebow and voice, as resultant beatings highlight subtle pitch discrepancies. Over time, Amaya introduces pitches in different registers to add dimension to the increasingly immersive texture. DeBoer Bartlett eventually enters with powerfully plaintive wails against crashing sounds in Langen’s part, a poignant textural idea that returns throughout the work. While the piece is largely ethereal, Amaya pointedly avoids settling into any resolved harmony for long, preferring unsettling shifting verticalities that speak to his score indication to “resonate…, beautifully or horribly, and listen.”
The final work on “The Same Old Wonder” is Jonathan Sokol’s Basic Lands, a twenty five minute modular game piece with texts taken from the book The Prairie and the Sea by William Quayle. The rules of the game are modeled after the Magic: The Gathering card game and involve drawing of cards that indicate independent phrases in the voice and gestures in the microtonally tuned guitar part. The work begins and ends with the same vocal passage, but otherwise the ordering of the voice material is variable from performance to performance. The guitar part consists of five “draws”, each consisting of five short gestures that the performer is encouraged to improvise around. Langen’s realization of these fragmented gestures possesses an admirable flow, building a linear logic through the chance materials. The soprano material presents itself conventionally, akin to art song, while the the experimental sound sculpting in the guitar part establishes a subconscious context for the narrative content of the text. While individual performances of the work will inevitably be variable in their realization, the dichotomy between concrete and abstract is cleverly built into the nature of the material between the voice and guitar.
“The Same Old Wonder” is a debut statement by an ensemble that is consciously interested in deconstructing the conventional expectations associated with a voice and guitar duo. Combining influences from Chicago’s fertile experimentalist scene with a refreshing eclecticism, Hasco Duo promises to carve out a distinct and unique space while bringing new repertoire to a time honored instrumentation.
Hasco Duo (Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, soprano, and Jesse Langen, guitar) is an experimental project that performs both original and commissioned music. Formed in 2013, they have been featured at the Fora Intemacional de Música Nueva, the Resonant Bodies Festival in New York and Chicago, Film Streams Omaha "Silents in Concert” series, SEAMUS, New Music DePaul, Frequency Series, ADNODE Festival, Omaha Femme Fest, the Omaha Under the Radar Festival, Generator Series at KANEKO, OPTION Series, Holland Stages Festival, and Live at OutrSpaces series.
Hasco Duo experiences the traditional instrumentation of voice and guitar as both an intuitive storytelling model, and as an opportunity to explore the boundaries between our conscious and subconscious realms. The voice can so naturally take on the role of narrator, of ego, of protagonist, while the guitar provides the surrounding landscape, the subconscious information. Working within that traditional model, while also seeking opportunities to transform the concept of voice and guitar, Hasco Duo connects with the history of the genre while allowing for new dimensions and stories to emerge.
Hasco is an anagram of the word chaos, and refers to the duo's affinity for improvisation, aleatoric music, open-form notation, graphic scores, and game theory.
Nothing about the Hasco Duo's new disc, “The Same Old Wonder" (New Focus Recordings), appears to fit the title, at least on the surface, as it contains works that are entirely new and unexpected. Comprised of soprano Amanda de Boer Bartlett and guitarist Jesse Langen, this duo (whose name is an anagram of the word “chaos”) has set out to “…deconstruc[t] the conventional expectations associated with a voice and guitar duo” – a goal they’ve most certainly achieved. On The Same Old Wonder, Bartlett and Langen debut five new works by Ravi Kittappa, Morgan Krauss, Luis Fernando Amaya, Jonathon Sokol, and the performers themselves. One note: there was limited biographical information in the album booklet about the performers, and none for the composers. Perhaps this information could be added, at least in a digital format.
Ravi Kitappa's Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst… takes a quote from Friedrich Nietzche’s Beyond Good and Evil that reads, “When one stares into the abyss, the abyss also stares back.” Kittappa sets a flowingly melodic vocalise over throbbing guitar riffs, creating waves of sound that burst forward and then recede, the abyss personified. Bartlett and Langen move in a completely different direction with their own composition, Wildflower. The folk-like melody, sung a cappella, could be an attractive tune on its own, capturing the childlike essence of the words of Constantinos Harpending Pavellas. Bartlett’s clear voice is particularly effective in capturing the wonder and inquisitive nature of the young poet. Langen’s gentle and sustained playing provides a shimmery canvas for the text.
Morgan Krauss' pallid tongues opens with a stream of distorted, punchy text recited over dense riffs, the rhythms vying for prominence. Memories–about making love, confusion, and feelings of flight, all jumbled together–are recalled and pushed aside. The struggle stops for a moment, as the singer reflects, “Sometimes we have to avoid thinking about the problems life presents. Otherwise we’d suffocate. Banality is sometimes striking.” From then on, her words begin to gradually fall apart into syllables. The guitar ceases its rhythmic drive and begins to envelop the voice as it deconstructs.
Tinta Roja/Tinta Negra (Red Ink/Black Ink) by Luis Fernando Amaya is an especially compelling work. Tinta Roja/Tinta Negra is an homage to “ancient voices, silenced and lost to perpetuity.” The interplay of the guitar with ebow and the voice create a resonant and captivating 13-minute soundscape that is at first formless and sustained. The sounds begin to shift upwards in pitch and novel textures, and colors appear as the ear strains to hear the singer’s “cries” emerging from the fabric of the work. These vocalizations and the accompanying interjections from the guitar grow louder and more intense until they fade away; the ancient voices exiting from the first.
Jonathan Sokol's Basic Lands is the final work; a 25-minute modular game piece with texts taken from the book The Prairie and the Sea by William Quayle. The rules of the composition are modeled after the card game “Magic: The Gathering” and include a variable and stratospheric vocal part (performed exuberantly with perfect pitch and diction by Bartlett) and a guitar part that must be improvised based on chance selection of fragmented musical gestures. Langen’s performance is exemplary here. His fluid rendering of the various gestures in dialogue with the voice is outstanding. Too often overlooked, the engineering team led by Alex Inglizian and Jack Murray (whose masterful work is clearly noted throughout the disc) deserves special kudos for the balance and clarity of the musical lines. The voice is never overpowered, as it easily could have been, by the guitar in even the most intense sections, and yet nothing feels dull or restrained. A masterful and resoundingly successful effort.
“The Same Old Wonder” sets an entirely new bar for what is possible by a voice and guitar duo. It is an unexpected, captivating, and somewhat experimental journey through a variety of intensely captivating sound worlds. I am looking forward to further surprises and innovations from this talented pair.
— Lauren Alfano, 4.16.2020
On the evidence of this, their third album, the Hasco Duo — soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett and guitarist Jesse Langen — bring a new perspective to the art song. At its most compelling, their collective sound is a play of opposites—of DeBoer’s clear, intimately human voice against the technologically facilitated distortion Langen brings to his guitar sound. This opposition, and the aesthetic and emotional tensions it both creates and balances, is epitomized in the duo’s performance on the 25-minute-long Basic Lands by Jonathan Sokol. The vocal part, a dramatic bit of register-leaping virtuosity in its delivery of text drawn from William Quayle’s The Prairie and the Sea, contrasts in its natural timbres and nature imagery with the guitar’s sonically abrasive and harmonically discordant interventions.
On the duo’s setting of poet Constantinos Harpending Pavellas’ “Wildflower” DeBoer Bartlett’s voice takes on a haunting poignance as she sings the childlike—because actually written by a child—words against the lush background of sustained tones from Langen’s guitar. For Luis Fernando Amaya’s Tinta Roja, Tinta Negra/Red Ink, Black Ink, DeBoer’s shouts and cries rise and fall alongside of Langen’s long-sustained sounds. The anguish of the piece is particularly brought into focus through the microtonal clashes that result as their lines weave across and through each other.
“The Same Old Wonder” also includes Ravi Kittappa’s Nietzsche-inspired piece Und wenn du lange in eninen Abgrund blickst…, a collision of sound poetry and extended technique for electric guitar, and Morgan Krauss’ pallid tongues, a piece for urgently spoken text and industrially distorted guitar.
— Daniel Barbiero, 4.17.2020
Playfulness and experimentation with modes of narrative underpin the pieces on this disc. The cascading sounds that open California-based Ravi Kittappa’s Und wenn du lange in einem Abgrund blickst ... find soprano and electric guitar in a glorious electronic soup. The title is from Nietzsche, from Beyond Good and Evil and finishes, “And when one stares into the abyss, the abyss stares back.” At the beginning, the electric guitar taps against the strings and the voice responds, as if communication is being established. There is something primal about Kittappa’s soundscape that seems to invite us to ask questions about the nature of being and of gestation: it comes as no real surprise to learn that Kittappa studied philosophy at Johns Hopkins University prior to completing a doctorate in music composition at University of California, Berkeley. The close microphone on the voice enables the listener to savor every last variation of timbre, from pure to grainy, just as one can get carried away by the gradations of the guitar. The virtuosity of both DeBoer Bartlett and Landan is remarkable. An invitation to explore an abyss, “possibly of our own making” as the notes point out, is one of vital importance; this is as visceral a musical response as can be imagined.
It is quite a shift to the welcoming, almost folksy sound of the Hasco Duo’s own Wildflower. As the song progresses, the guitar contribution becomes fuller, a halo that first envelops the singer later destabilizing her. To call it an interlude between the grittier pieces that surround it would be to do it a disservice; it is perfectly formed in and of itself.
A Cageian sense of recitation (not quite as unintelligible though) suffuses Morgan Krauss’s pallid tongues, heard against a powerful distorted electronic background that seems designed to destabilize emotions. Structurally this piece is simple and effective: after the cascade of words, a sudden silence elicits a straightforward statement (“Sometimes we have to avoid thinking about the problems life presents. Otherwise, we’d suffocate. Banality is sometimes striking”); a final section features broken syllables against slowly aggregated guitar chords, still grungy but now less threatening.
Not to be confused with composer Efraim Amaya, Luis Fernando Amaya is a Mexican composer and percussionist based in Chicago and pursuing a doctorate in composition at Northwestern University. His “open instrumental arrangement” (his term) Tinta roja, tinta negra (Red Ink, Black Ink) presents sounds that seem to refer to an ancient ritualism, slow and sustained as the guitar, played with an e-bow, creates pitch “beatings” against the wordless voice (the latter flawlessly pitched by DeBoer Bartlett). The piece has a floating quality, although this is no “New Age” piece; unsettling, quiet bass sounds repeatedly threaten any peace.
The longest piece on the disc is Jonathan Sokol’s Basic Lands with text from William Quayle’s The Prairie and the Sea. It is a “modular game piece” in that the rules of the musical manipulation are derived after the “Magic: The Gathering” strategy card game, so that cards drawn determine phrases in the voice and microtonal gestures in the guitar. Influenced by Chicago’s experimentalist scene, the structural staging posts are really only the very beginning and the very end, which comprise the same vocal passage. In between the guitar part consists of five “draws,” each of five gestures that the composer should improvise around. There exists a fertile creative friction between the controlled aleatorism of the guitar and the more conventionally directional, linear voice.
One can hear when care meets expertise in contemporary music; such is the case here. The performers act as one; their concentration is total. The Hasco Duo is “consciously interested in deconstructing the conventional expectations associated with a voice and guitar duo”; they have succeeded in their ambitions admirably. Any ideas of “voice and guitar” implying folk songs around a campfire can safely be jettisoned. Superbly recorded at the Experimental Sound Studio and Chicago Academy for the Arts, Illinois, this is an important release.
— Colin Clarke, 2.22.2021