Quaking AspenStephanie Lamprea & William Bond

About

Quaking Aspen is the debut solo album of Colombian-American soprano Stephanie Lamprea. An architect of new sounds and expressions as a performer specializing in contemporary-classical repertoire, Lamprea uses her coloratura voice as a mechanism of avant-garde performance art, creating “maniacal shifts of vocal production and character… like an icepick through the skull” (Jason Eckardt).

Audio

This record sets poetry and sounds of the natural world to unaccompanied voice, with words written by female poets from the 19th through 21st centuries. Placing text at the forefront, each poem is first spoken, and then sung to mesmerizing and distinctive musical interpretations. The record begins with Jason Eckardt’s Populus tremuloides: Quaking Aspen, a wordless vocal soundscape using an array of timbres and extended techniques to represent the living form and motion of the Catskill Mountains’ quaking aspen. Moving through music of Wang Lu, Kurt Rohde, James May, George Gianopoulos, and Hannah Selin, through the words of Lucy Corin, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), Donna Masini, and Edith Wharton, the listener is met with vibrant and vulnerable interpretations of text, soaring vocalises, and mercurial acrobatics abound.

Jason Eckardt’s Populus tremuloides: "Quaking Aspen" is a wordless vocal soundscape using an array of timbres and extended techniques to represent the living form and motion of the Catskill Mountains’ quaking aspen.

Kurt Rohde’s Water Lilies I is a short work for solo voice setting Donna Masini’s poem of the same name from her collection 4:30 Movie. Masini’s Water Lily poems are assembled floating across the printed page, like flowers resting on a fluid surface. Rohde uses amplified voice, electronic filters, and three distinct head positions to mirror Masini’s poetic form, gently swaying and inwardly accumulating.

Bathing, composed by Wang Lu, is based on a short story from American writer Lucy Corin’s collection One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses. Inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wang emphasizes an obsession with hygiene and wiping surfaces, while having the vocalist murmur, speak to the audience, shout, sing beautiful lyrical lines, vocalise high coloratura passages, and at times hysterically scream.

Mid-Day, composed by Hannah Selin, is a work for soprano and electronics which sets the poem of the same name by American modernist H. D. Selin uses electronic loops, sustained notes, and grand coloratura gestures to focus on nested timelines and regeneration of life out of older materials, just as the poetry describes nature as a series of cycles of death and rebirth.

George N. Gianopoulos’ An Autumn Sunset is a two-song cycle based on the poem by American writer Edith Wharton. Wharton uses vivid, colorful, and at times exaggerated language to depict the sun setting over an autumnal landscape. Gianopoulos reproduces the intensity of Wharton’s poem, combining coloratura passages and atonal experimentation.

Flowers for Eurydice, composed by James May, is a short, dramatic work for unaccompanied soprano. The text comes from the final segment of H.D.’s Eurydice poem, which tells the story of Orpheus’s failure to lead Eurydice from the underworld from Eurydice’s perspective. Over the course of the poem, she goes from mourning the life she could have had to asserting her own agency in determining her life; this piece captures her last defiant statements through soaring lyricism and poignant dynamics.

Works by Eckardt, Wang, Gianopoulos, Rohde, and Selin were all written especially for Stephanie. Bathing by Wang Lu was graciously commissioned by the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. For this record, William Bond provides spoken word.

– Stephanie Lamprea

Producers: Stephanie Lamprea, Joshua Anthony Jandreau

Tracks 1, 3-6, 8-12, recorded at The Record Co. in Boston, MA, June and July 2021

Track 2 recorded in Glasgow, UK, September 2021

Track 7 recorded in Brooklyn, NY, August 2021

Recording engineers: Anna Stromer (tracks 1, 3-6, 8-12), Andrew Paine (track 2), Hannah Selin (track 7)

Mixing and Mastering Engineer: Joshua Anthony Jandreau, August and September 2021

Design & layout: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com

Stephanie Lamprea

Colombian-American soprano Stephanie Lamprea is an architect of new sounds and expressions as a performer, recitalist, curator and improviser, specializing in contemporary classical repertoire. Trained as an operatic coloratura, Stephanie uses her voice as a mechanism of avant-garde performance art, creating “maniacal shifts of vocal production and character… like an icepick through the skull” (Jason Eckardt). Her work has been described as “mercurial'' by I Care If You Listen and that she “sings so expressively and slowly with ever louder and higher-pitched voice, that the inclined listener [has] shivers down their back and tension flows into the last row." (Halberstadt.de) She has received awards from the Concert Artist Guild, St. Botolph Club Foundation, the John Cage Orgel Stiftung in Germany, and the Puffin Foundation. Stephanie has performed as a soloist at Roulette Intermedium, Constellation Chicago, National Sawdust, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Re:Sound Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. She has taught and performed in residency at University of California at Davis, City University of New York, Temple University, Clark University, Bronx Community College, University of Central Florida, Arkansas State University, and Northern Arizona University, and she was a featured TEDx Speaker for TEDxWaltham: Going Places. Stephanie received her Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Performance from the Manhattan School of Music, where she worked with Maitland Peters and Lucy Shelton. She is a candidate for the Doctor of Performing Arts degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, under the supervision of composer/zoo-musicologist Dr. Emily Doolittle and co-supervised by Dr. Laura Gonzalez and Jean Sangster.

http://www.stephanielamprea.com/

William Bond

William Bond was born and raised in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. He studied at the University of Oxford and Syracuse University, and received his PhD at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. His dissertation, Daemonic Allure: Material Experiences in Nineteenth-Century American Poetry, examines a series of neglected American poets — including John Neal and Adah Isaacs Menken — whose works articulate both an attraction to nature and an awareness of the way the material world exceeds human powers of conceptualization. William's interests also include environmental aesthetics and its place within contemporary debates concerning conservation, rewilding, and global warming. He currently resides in Glasgow, Scotland.


Reviews

5

Pop Matters

"Quaking Aspen” is a name for the deciduous North American tree officially known as populus tremuloides, and its quaking or trembling leaves is due to its flexible flattened leafstalks. As a jumping-off point for the debut solo album of a startlingly gifted soprano, it may be an odd choice, but Stephanie Lamprea’s new album is refreshingly far from a typical work of art.

Lamprea, an accomplished vocalist and educator, specializes in contemporary classical repertoire, using her coloratura voice as a mechanism of avant-garde performance art. Her voice can express traditional operatic methods but often takes the form of sputters, throat noises, and other modern techniques. With Quaking Aspen, she uses her ample talents to interpret poetry and prose that spans decades with the aid of a variety of composers.

The opening track is a bit of an outlier; composer Jason Eckardt’s “Populus Tremuloides: Quaking Aspen” is a wordless soundscape meant to represent the trembling of these trees in the Catskill Mountains. Lamprea dives into the composition with groaning, hissing, buzzing, trilling, and full-throated operatic vocalizing. It’s a disarming piece of music but manages to pull off the unusual trick of bringing nature to vibrant life.

Following the first track, Quaking Aspen takes on a specific structure: William Bond narrates a poem, followed by a composer’s musical interpretation, sung by Lamprea. These interpretations take on a variety of forms. Donna Masini’s poem “Water Lilies I” (taken from her collection 4:30 Movie) is given an ethereal treatment by composer Kurt Rohde, as Lamprea uses long, drawn-out notes and is aided by a variety of effects such as deep, cavernous reverb, and claustrophobic compression. This kind of back-and-forth in the treatment of Lamprea’s voice gives off the striking feeling of multiple characters interpreting the poetry.

Sometimes, however, the source material comes from an unusual place. “Bathing” is based on Lucy Corin’s short story in the collection One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses. Lamprea recites Corin’s words basically verbatim and, as directed by Wang Lu’s composition, stretches out the words, sings them, shouts them, and even screams. The story was inspired by the COVID pandemic, which likely accounts for Lamprea’s manic tone.

One of the best-known poets represented on Quaking Aspen is Edith Wharton, whose “An Autumn Sunset” is broken down into a two-song cycle composed by George N. Gianopoulos. Like a great deal of this fascinating record, Lamprea dives into atonal revelations while infusing the piece with stunning coloratura passages.

But one of the stunning highlights of Quaking Aspen is “Mid-Day”, based on the poem of the same name by Hilda Doolittle (who was published under H.D.). Hannah Selin’s composition for soprano and electronics has Lamprea experimenting with coloratura methods alongside clapping and slapping actions with a droning loop underneath it all, recalling a medieval chant atmosphere. This type of combination gives the impression of the spanning of centuries as if Hildegard Von Bingen were collaborating with Amirtha Kidambi. The composition’s adventurous and sometimes foreboding nature is a perfect match for the source material, as H.D.’s poem equates nature with cycles of death and rebirth.

Quaking Aspen is an unusual yet fascinating, deeply enjoyable work of art and can be compared to difficult-to-interpret postmodern tomes. Like the dense novels of William Gaddis or Thomas Pynchon, enjoyment of it requires a particular frame of mind, but once it clicks, Quaking Aspen is a magical, intense, and deeply satisfying journey.

— Chris Ingalls, 1.14.2022

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