Resonant Bodies

About

The Resonant Bodies festival, founded and directed by mezzo-soprano Lucy Dhegrae, ran for three nights of performances in a row at downtown Brooklyn's Roulette Intermedium each year from 2013-19. The broad mission of Resonant Bodies was to highlight adventurous vocalists in programs of their choosing. The collection of live performances from the festival features performances by several prominent vocal performers across the spectrum of diverse practice including Julia Bullock, Tony Arnold, Pamela Z, Charmaine Lee, Lucy Shelton, Caroline Shaw, and Sofia Jernberg.

Audio

The Resonant Bodies Festival says its final goodbye in this legacy album for the sonically voracious. Drawing from seven years of performances, including over 100 world premieres and dozens of groundbreaking vocalists, Resonant Bodies offers a thirteen-track compilation of the Festival’s most memorable moments. It embodies the fiercely inquisitive curatorial spirit that has long been the Festival’s lifeblood, featuring pioneering artists such as Julia Bullock, Kamala Sankaram, Lucy Shelton, Caroline Shaw, Pamela Z, and Tony Arnold. In this debut release with New Focus Recordings, Resonant Bodies showcases each live performance, newly remastered for an audio-only experience.

Charmaine Lee’s music is predominantly improvised, and she uses amplification, feedback, and microphones to augment and distort the voice. Littorals establishes multiple layers of activity through delays and a remarkable range of vocal techniques.

She is Asleep, heard in this performance by Julia Bullock, was written by John Cage in 1943 during an intense time in US history and features sounds that are alternately primordial and activated.

Pamela Z's work features her voice with electronic processing, samples, gesture activated MIDI controllers, and video. Quatre Couches is a sonic trifle juxtaposing four contrasting layers and manually toying with them. In Badagada, one of Pamela Z’s early digital delay pieces, syllables are layered in multiple delay lines to form a harmonic, rhythmic accompaniment.

In Thierry Tidrow’s metaphorical “The Flame,” sung here by Sarah Maria Sun, a small but eager flame manages to spread itself slowly throughout a room, devour a house, and finally engulf a whole village and land, until eventually it has nothing else to feed on and suddenly realizes its fate.

Jason Eckardt’s Dithyramb is an excerpt of a larger work, Tongues, which was inspired in part by glossolalia, better known as “speaking in tongues,” an ecstatic outburst of unintelligible vocal sounds that resembles spoken language that Tony Arnold performs with virtuosity and bracing power.

On en route to unfriending, Arooj Aftab is joined by pianist Vijay Iyer and bassist Shahzad Ismaily, a trio project that relishes in unplanned improvisation grounded in responsive listening.

In Ancient Greek, ololyga is the ritual shriek of women, a sound so alarming to men that it could not be uttered within their earshot. Kamala Sankaram’s work was written as a direct response to the 2016 election.

Caroline Shaw's Rise was initially drafted for a dance piece and features shifting chords that ascend and pivot in strange ways. The first version of Other Song was with the full winds and brass section of the National Symphony Orchestra, and is an homage to the songwriter Sara Bareilles.

Gelsey Bell's Feedback Belly takes ubiquitous equipment like a Fender Mini-Twin Amp and Boss Delay pedal and builds a non-notated interactive structure that sensitively responds to the subtle movements and feedback of the performer’s body.

Amadeus Regucera's If only after you then me, performed by Rachel Calloway's voice and violin group Duo Cortona, is a monologue (in a person’s own mind), a dialogue (between intimate partners), or both.

Susan Botti’s "Listen, my heart" is one of seven songs in her Bird Songs, settings of poems from Rabindranath Tagore's Stray Birds, and heard here in a performance by the eminent Lucy Shelton.

In the Garden features Anaïs Maviel’s haunting vocals while she accompanies herself on the Malian plucked string instrument, the n’goni.

One Pitch: Birds for Distortion and Mouth Synthesizers beautifully encapsulates Sofia Jernberg’s rich vocal vocabulary, from experimental extended techniques to ritualistic singing.

  • Produced by Resonant Bodies Festival: Lucy Dhegrae, Rachel Doehring, Fanny Wyrick-Flax
  • Tracks 5 and 11 recorded live at Merkin Concert Hall
  • Recording engineer: Charles Hagaman
  • All other tracks were recorded live at Roulette Intermedium
  • Mixing engineer: Woramon Jamjod
  • Mastering engineer: Christopher Botta
  • Cover Art: Sahana Ramakrishnan
  • Design & layout: Marc Wolf

Resonant Bodies

Resonant Bodies Festival — “in equal measures intelligent, playful, ambitious and moving” (New York Times) — was a festival featuring adventurous vocalists in programs of their choosing. Each vocalist’s curatorial carte blanche gave the festival "a happy zealousness, where the singers' enthusiasm for their repertoire was contagious" (Sequenza 21). From 2013 to 2019, the “indispensable” and “essential” festival (New York Times) presented dozens of vocal artists at a total of eleven festivals around the world: seven in New York City, three in Australia, one in Chicago, and one in Canada.

Charmaine Lee

Charmaine Lee is a New York-based vocalist. Her music is predominantly improvised, favoring a uniquely personal approach to vocal expression concerned with spontaneity, playfulness, and risk-taking. Beyond extended vocal technique, Charmaine uses amplification, feedback, and microphones to augment and distort the voice. She has performed with leading improvisers Nate Wooley, id m theft able, C. Spencer Yeh, and Ikue Mori, and maintains ongoing collaborations with Conrad Tao, Victoria Shen, Zach Rowden, and Eric Wubbels. She has performed at ISSUE Project Room, the Kitchen, Roulette, the Stone, and MoMA PS1. As a composer, Charmaine has been commissioned by the Wet Ink Ensemble (2018) and Spektral Quartet (2018). charmainlee.com


Julia Bullock

American classical singer Julia Bullock is “a musician who delights in making her own rules” (New Yorker). Combining versatile artistry with a probing intellect and commanding stage presence, she has, in her early 30s, already headlined productions and concerts at preeminent arts institutions around the world. Also an innovative curator in high demand, she holds notable positions including founding core member of the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC) and 2018-19 Artist-in-Residence at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bullock previously made debuts at San Francisco Opera, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Dutch National Opera and Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre, and has collaborated with orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and many others.


Pamela Z

Pamela Z is a composer/performer and media artist making works for voice, electronic processing, samples, gesture activated MIDI controllers, and video. She has toured throughout the US, Europe, and Japan. Her work has been presented at venues and exhibitions including Bang on a Can (NY), the Japan Interlink Festival, Other Minds (SF), the Venice Biennale, and the Dakar Biennale. She has composed scores for dance, film, and chamber ensembles (including Kronos Quartet and Eighth Blackbird). Her awards include the Rome Prize, United States Artists, the Guggenheim, Doris Duke Artist Impact Award, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and the Herb Alpert Award. Pamelaz.com

Sarah Maria Sun

Sarah Maria Sun is known as one of the foremost and most extraordinary performers in the contemporary music scene. Her repertoire currently spans more than 1000 compositions from the 16th to the 21st century, including 350 world premieres. She regularly performs as a soloist in renowned concert halls and festivals worldwide. From 2007-2014, she was the first soprano of the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, a chamber ensemble of seven singers that has been one of the world's leading pioneers of contemporary music for decades. sarahmariasun.com


Tony Arnold

“Soprano Tony Arnold is a luminary in the world of chamber music and art song. Today’s classical composers are inspired by her inherently beautiful voice, consummate musicianship, and embracing spirit” (Huffington Post). Hailed by The New York Times as “a bold, powerful interpreter,” she is internationally acclaimed as a leading proponent of contemporary music in concert and recording, having premiered hundreds of works by established and emerging composers. screecher.com

Arooj Aftab

The music of Arooj Aftab floats within several liminal spaces you might not have imagined—between New Age and classical minimalism, between Sufi devotional poetry and electronic trance, between singer-songwriter structure and states of pure being. In 2018, Aftab was named among NPR's 200 Greatest Songs by 21st Century Women, and The New York Time's 25 Best Classical Songs of 2018. She has also won a 2020 Academy Award composing music for film.

Kamala Sankaram

As a composer/performer, Kamala Sankaram is known for her “blazing high notes” (The Wall Street Journal) and her “strikingly original” (New York Times) music. Moving freely between the worlds of experimental music, creative music, and contemporary opera, notable appearances include the role of Gwen St. Clair in Meredith Monk’s ATLAS with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as at festivals in the US and internationally. Kamala is the leader of Bombay Rickey, an operatic Bollywood surf ensemble whose accolades include two awards for Best Eclectic Album from the Independent Music Awards. Recent commissions include Washington National Opera, Houston Grand Opera, the PROTOTYPE Festival, and Shakespeare Theatre Company, among others. kamalasankaram.com


Caroline Shaw

Caroline Shaw is a New-York-based musician—vocalist, violinist, composer, and producer—who performs in solo and collaborative projects. She was the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for Partita for 8 Voices, written for the Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth, of which she is a member. Recent commissions include new works for Renée Fleming with Inon Barnatan, Dawn Upshaw with Sō Percussion and Gil Kalish, Seattle Symphony, Anne Sofie von Otter with Philharmonia Baroque, the LA Philharmonic, Juilliard 415, and Roomful of Teeth with A Far Cry. She has produced for Kanye West (The Life of Pablo; Ye) and Nas (NASIR), and has contributed to records by The National, and by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. carolineshaw.com


Gelsey Bell

Gelsey Bell is a singer, songwriter, and scholar. She has been described by The New York Times as “a charismatic and fiercely intelligent performer” whose performance of her own music is “virtuosic” and “glorious noise.” She is a core member of thingNY, Varispeed, and The Chutneys. Performance highlights include Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 (Broadway) and Ghost Quartet, Robert Ashley’s Improvement and Crash, Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler’s River of Fundament, Kate Soper’s Here Be Sirens, and Gregory Whitehead’s On the Shore Dimly Seen. gelseybell.com


Rachel Calloway

Rachel Calloway brings versatility and compelling insight to stages worldwide. Her work has been praised by The New York Times for “penetrating clarity” and “considerable depth of expression” and by Opera News for her “adept musicianship and dramatic flair.” Recent performances include a California Symphony debut in works by Gabriela Lena Frank and Mahler, and performances and residencies with Duo Cortona, alongside violinist Ari Streisfeld. She has appeared in concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Series, the New York Philharmonic, and Ojai Festival, and has performed with Opera Philadelphia, the PROTOTYPE Festival, and the Glimmerglass Festival. Calloway can be heard on Albany Records, Tzadik Records, BCMF Records, and Toccata Classics. rachelcalloway.com


Lucy Shelton

The only winner of two Walter W. Naumburg Awards—for both chamber music and solo singing—American soprano Lucy Shelton is an internationally recognized exponent of 20th and 21st century repertory. Notable among her numerous world premieres are Elliott Carter’s Tempo e Tempi and Of Challenge and Of Love, and Oliver Knussen’s Whitman Settings. Shelton has excelled in theatrical works, including Luigi Dallapiccola’s Il Prigioniero (her BBC Proms debut) and numerous staged productions of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. Among the major orchestras with which she has worked are those of Amsterdam, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Denver, London, New York, Paris, Cologne, Munich, and Tokyo. lucyshelton.com


Anaïs Maviel

Anaïs Maviel is a vocalist, percussionist, composer, writer, and community facilitator. Her work focuses on the function of music as essential to settling common grounds, addressing Relation, and creating a utopian future. As a leader she is dedicated to substantial creations from solo to large ensembles, music direction of cross-disciplinary works, and to expanding the power of music as a healing and transformative act. She performs and teaches extensively in New York, throughout North, South and Central America, and in Europe. She is the 2019 recipient of the Van Lier Fellowship and the 2020 recipient of the American Composers Forum Create commission program, alongside string quartet The Rhythm Method. anaismaviel.com


Sofia Jernberg

Sofia Jernberg is a Swedish experimental singer, composer, improviser and performer, born in Ethiopia, 1983. She grew up in Ethiopia, Vietnam and Sweden. One of her deepest interests as a singer is to explore the “instrumental” possibilities of the voice. Her singing vocabulary includes sounds and techniques that often contradict a conventional singing style. She has dug deep into non verbal vocalizing, split tone singing, pitchless singing and distorted singing. As a composer she has been commissioned by Stockholm Jazz Festival, Vocal Ensemble Oslo 14, KLANG Copenhagen Avantgarde Music Festival, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, The Gothenburg Combo, Opera Nord, and various chamber ensembles.



Reviews

5

The Road to Sound

The Resonant Bodies Festival, founded by Lucy Dhegrae, spent six years (2013–2019) showing the world what the human voice can be. A prolific series, Resonant Bodies brought over 250 vocal works to over 2,500 audience members, showcasing a range of practitioners from noisy improvisers to contemporary classical virtuosos to philosophical experimentalists.

New Focus Recordings recently released Resonant Bodies, the first recording from the festival’s performance archives. These tracks demonstrate the myriad ways vocal practitioners navigate their instrument, sharing their bodies as much as their music. It’s a broad spectrum of style, of practice, of philosophy, and of sound, as was the festival. If you’re new to avant-garde vocal music, one could not ask for a more comprehensive introduction to the contemporary voice and a stepping stone into the scene. If you’re already steeped in the manifold ways musicians are using the voice, then it’s thrilling to have such an accessible summation of the wonderful practitioners active today.

Charmaine Lee’s Littorals for voice and electronics is the perfect opening track to discard preconceptions about vocality. Lee’s intricate improvisatory practice is an immediate demonstration of the boundary-breaking curatorial focus of the festival. Over seven-and-a-half minutes, she spits out sibilants over distorted phonations with astonishing dexterity, pops and trills bursting while she ekes out subtle timbral variations hidden amidst her breathy pulsations. A simple electronics setup shades depth and hazy ambience into her chaotic vocalizations, creating an aura equal parts assertive and introspective.

Listeners familiar with the scene will recognize many names featured on Resonant Bodies. Pamela Z’s Quatre Couches/Badagada demonstrates her pioneering work with extended technique and electronic processing. The folkish stylings of Caroline Shaw are on tuneful display in Rise/Other Song. Tony Arnold flies through Jason Eckardt’s exacting Dithyramb, as though responding to Sarah Marie Sun and Campbell MacDonald’s brilliant dramatic performance of Die Flamme by Thierry Tidrow one track prior.

The most exciting performances, though, step away from the recognizable offshoots of contemporary classical music and explore new aesthetics of vocalizing. Arooj Aftab leads a ruminative, melodic improvisation entitled en route to unfriending, singing through text by Pakistani poet Mirzah Ghalib while accompanied by veteran performers Vijay Iyer (piano) and Shahzad Ismaily (bass). Gelsey Bell invites us to contemplate her presence through a provoking performance of Feedback Belly, abstracting her physicality into clouds of gritty feedback. Anaïs Maviel’s In the Garden record was one of my favorites of 2019; this performance captures the same aching vulnerability as she explores nuanced timbral and harmonic pathways.

Not every piece translated so successfully, particularly among the composed works. Cage’s She is Asleep, performed beautifully by Julia Bullock and Milena Gligić, felt surprisingly out of place. Despite its status as an early exploration of vocal possibilities (the voice part has no vowel or consonant directions), its form and aesthetic make it feel outdated. Kamala Sankaram’s Ololyga traces the evolution of vocalizing through swirls of electronics and discordant screams, but could have lasted longer and dwelt more on the sounds at play. If only after you then me by Amadeus Regucera flagged under a developmental blockiness, and Susan Botti’s Listen, my heart was more meandering than meditative. The committed performances by Duo Cortona (Rachel Calloway, voice, and Ari Streisfeld, violin) and Lucy Shelton were wholly dedicated to the ethos of these pieces, but couldn’t make up for structural issues.

Fortunately, the album is extraordinarily well-curated, expertly pacing the progression of aesthetics and forms for its immense 1 hour 44-minute runtime. If, on an individual level, certain tracks are not as strong as others, they nonetheless fit expertly into the flow of sounds. Bristling distortions flow into droning hums, while free improvisations and specialized notation practices serve as foils, each track complementing those surrounding it.

Nothing, however, could quite prepare me for the album closer — Sofia Jernberg’s One Pitch: Birds for Distortion and Mouth Synthesizers. Jernberg was one of few names I didn’t recognize on this tracklist, and her improvisatory performance absolutely floored me. Opening with a proud, commanding melodic line, she quickly and expertly devolves into multiphonic squeaks and vocal fry. Her bodily microadjustments draw forth increasingly focused sounds, prying open spaces of palpable timbral complexity as she navigates from squealing ululations to buzzing growls. Here is not just a world of sound, but the world of the body, delicately negotiated by Jernberg (and every other artist) to create astonishing acoustic phenomena. If Lee’s opener set the tone for what the voice can do, Jernberg’s closer suggests that this is only the beginning.

— James May, 3.24.2021

5

The Attic Staff Picks - March 2021

The Resonant Bodies festival, founded and directed by mezzo-soprano Lucy Dhegrae, ran for three nights of performances in a row at downtown Brooklyn's Roulette Intermedium each year from 2013-19. The broad mission of Resonant Bodies was to highlight adventurous vocalists in programs of their choosing. The collection of live performances from the festival features performances by several prominent vocal performers across the spectrum of diverse practice including Julia Bullock, Tony Arnold, Pamela Z, Charmaine Lee, Lucy Shelton, Caroline Shaw, and Sofia Jernberg.

— Dragoș Rusu, Victor Stutz, 3.31.2021

5

New York Music Daily

The annual Resonant Bodies Festival of avant garde vocal music ran from 2013 to 2019 at Roulette, and had just begun to branch out to other major cities when the lockdown crushed the performing arts throughout most of the world. This blog was there for the initial festival, and subsequent editions matched that year’s outside-the-box sensibility. Roulette’s vast archive still exists, and presumably everything from those often riveting performances was recorded. Let’s hope that there’s been enough resistance to the lockdown, and enough talent left in New York this fall to resume the series; if not, there’s a fantastic live compilation album featuring some of the highlights from over the years streaming at Bandcamp.

The lineup here is a who’s who of some of the most formidable new-music vocal talent out there. As was often the case with the series itself, all of the singers here are women, most of them composer-performers playing and singing solo. All but two of the tracks are from the festival.

Charmaine Lee‘s Littorals makes an apt opener. Her shtick is that she uses all the sounds in the international phonetic alphabet, plus some that may not have symbols. Part human beatbox, part devious infant, part comic, her solo performance will leave you in stitches. It sounds as if the mic is inside her mouth for much of this. This might be the funniest track anyone’s released this year.

Julia Bullock brings a beefy, soul-inspired vibrato to John Cage’s She is Asleep, Milena Gligić supplying muted, percussive microtones under the piano lid. Pamela Z’s highly processed solo diptych Quatre Couches/Badagada spins an increasingly agitated pastiche through a funhouse mirror.

Backed by clarinetist Campbell MacDonald, Sarah Maria Sun delivers Thierry Tidrow‘s grisly murder ballad Die Flamme, Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire recast as arsonist. Tony Arnold nimbly negotiates the multiple voices and disjointedly demanding extended technique of Jason Eckardt’s Dithyramb.

Arooj Aftab joins forces with pianist Vijay Iyer and bassist Shahzad Ismaily for En Route to Unfriending, a slowly unwinding, ghazal-inspired, melancholy tour de force from the 2017 festival. Iyer’s gently insistent staccato, evoking the ringing of a santoor, is masterful.

The title of Kamala Sankaram‘s slowly crescendoing solo electroacoustic piece Ololyga reflects a shrieking mourning ritual practiced in ancient Greece, which men reputedly scared off all the guys. Needless to say, the Bombay Rickey frontwoman pulls out all the stops with her five-octave range.

Another solo electroacoustic performance, Caroline Shaw‘s diptych Rise/Other Song is considerably calmer, with a gently incantatory quality. Gelsey Bell‘s Feedback Belly is one of the more imaginative and intense pieces here, drawing on her battle with the waves of pain she experienced during a long battle with endometriosis. “If there’s anything you take away from this, please take women’s pain seriously. There is nothing like having a women’s disease to radicalize a feminist in this incredibly misogynistic health system,” she relates in the album’s extensive, colorful liner notes. Manipulating feedback from a Fender amp inside a metal canister hidden under her oversize dress, Bell builds a strangely rapt, dynamically shifting atmosphere punctuated by pulsing electronic grit.

Duo Cortona – vocalist Rachel Calloway and violinist/vocalist Ari Streisfeld – perform Amadeus Regucera‘s relationship drama If Only After You Then Me, beginning furtively and ripping through many moments of franticness and sheer terror. The iconic Lucy Shelton sings a dynamically impassioned take of Susan Botti‘s Listen, My Heart, a setting of a comforting Rabindrath Tagore poem, accompanying herself energetically on singing bowls and metal percussion.

Anaïs Maviel plays spiky, circling ngoni on In the Garden, a hypnotically moody, masterfully melismatic retelling of the Garden of Eden myth. The album’s closing epic is Sofia Jernberg’s One Pitch: Birds for Distortion and Mouth Synthesizers. Is she going to be able to hold up through seventeen minutes of nonstop, increasingly rigorous falsetto birdsong-like motives…let alone without a break for water? No spoilers!

— Delarue, 4.29.2021

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