Hybrids and Collage
The composer, performer, and media artist Pamela Z works with a wide variety of techniques, including “voice, live electronic processing, sampled sound, and video,” and has produced art both for the concert hall and the museum. From San Francisco, she sent us this playlist. Each track here contains a multiplicity of influences; taken together, the compilation becomes as diverse as her artistic practice itself.
Björk - Meredith Monk’s “Gotham Lullaby” from “Monk Mix (Remixes & Interpretations)”
I felt tremendously honored to be one of 25 artists invited by Meredith Monk’s House Foundation to contribute a track to the 2012 double-CD release “Monk Mix (Remixes & Interpretations).” I was even more delighted when I heard the rest of the tracks on the album, which introduced me to a host of remarkable performances of Meredith’s music. Björk’s phrasing in this lovely interpretation of “Gotham Lullaby” strikes me as perfect, and the pairing of her voice with Britain’s energetic Brodsky String Quartet makes the track even more powerful. I was smitten with Brodsky when I first heard them accompany Elvis Costello on a startlingly moving rendition of the Beach Boy’s “God Only Knows.”
The Slits - “So Tough” from “Cut”
In the early 1990s, I formed a group called The Qube Chix with two other women in San Francisco. We were the kind of bizarre hybrid of performance art ensemble, contemporary opera company, and quasi punk band that results from my obsessive aesthetic fence-straddling tendencies. Our chief inspiration for the punky side of our strange repertoire was most certainly the Slits—specifically this album and this song.
Philip Glass - “Knee 5” from “Einstein on the Beach; Lucinda Childs, Paul Zukofsky, Philip Glass Ensemble
I will forever be enchanted Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach.” I’m particularly enamored of the “Knee Plays” (five little intermezzos connecting the four movements of the opera.) The performances included language written and performed by choreographer Lucinda Childs. Her calm intoning of these minimal, repetitive text fragments, for me, epitomizes an era during which I was discovering a whole world of inter-media arts that enormously influenced and shaped my own performance and composition practice for many years to come.
Antony and the Johnsons - “Cut the World”
The first and only time I ever saw Anohni (then Antony Hegarty) perform live was December 2013, in Robert Wilson’s epic performance work, “The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic,” at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. I was startled to hear this beautiful song, sung in that familiar, buttery voice, coming from a towering six-foot-something frame regally dressed in a hooded gown. She towered over Abramovic and Willem DaFoe, and her plaintive, warm, elastic tones stopped everything in that moment.
John Cage - Sonata I from “Cage: Sonatas and Interludes,” John Tilbury (Piano)
Like many contemporary musicians and composers, I owe a huge debt to John Cage for turning around the way the music and art worlds define music and contextualize sound. When I think of Cage, his prepared piano works loom particularly large for me. This brilliant extension of the instrument has become a solid part of our sonic palette. I never tire of these gamelanesque, wildly varied, percussive timbres.
Erin Gee - “Mouthpiece IX, Part I” from “Mouthpieces,” Erin Gee (Vocals), ORF Vienna Radio Orchestra
We contemporary music vocal artists often bandy about the term “extended vocal techniques.” It’s a term we’ve all questioned at times, but it still seems to work well as quick shorthand for vocal work that steps outside of the norms of conventional Western bel canto and folk/pop/rock techniques. Erin Gee’s work epitomizes the idea of using the entire vocal apparatus to make music. I find her sound and her composing to be a satisfying departure from the (albeit powerful) work of the usual extended voice suspects.
David Cunningham - “Belgrano” from “Voice Works”
I can’t get enough of David Cunningham’s choppy sampled-voice pieces. Some of them are operatic and bombastic, some are stately choral-sounding works, but they all chop the vocal samples up and present them in an almost non-vocal manner. This one evokes something unexplainable for me with its pounding piano and choppy, deep, glottal, female voice.
J.S. Bach - Goldberg Variations BWV 988: Aria from the Glenn Gould 1955 version
Bach remains a constant foundation to my musical world. And I think of Glenn Gould as the quintessential performer of this both mechanical and lyrical music that was actually written for harpsichords or clavichords. I’m always stuck on some Bach keyboard piece. At the moment, my Baroque earworm is the Aria of the Goldberg Variations. I selected this particular recording because I like it at this tempo; and, if you listen carefully, you can hear Gould’s involuntary singing and humming, which the recording engineer was unable to completely EQ out of this piano recording. I like hearing that.
CocoRosie - “Tears for Animals” (featuring Antony Hegarty) from “Tales of a GrassWidow”
I first encountered CocoRosie in 2004 when I was programmed on a festival with them in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I loved their peculiar freak-folk/experimental sound and the odd, little-girl timbres of their voices. Much later, I found this recording of “Tears for Animals.” What a striking surprise it was with its tight production and techno underpinnings! I think Antony’s warm voice is a nice foil for their bright vocal colors.
Alessandro Bosetti - “Gloriously Repeating” from “Royals”
Alessandro Bosetti makes liberal use of a technique of which I am quite fond: the composing of melodies based on pitch-following, a transcribing of the pitches and rhythms found in spoken text. Many composers working since the advent of sound-reproduction, myself included, have become fascinated with the music of speech sounds, and have worked out ways to bring those melodies into other instruments through digital and analog means. “Gloriously Repeating” is a lovely example of this kind of work, and I’m drawn to the actual text material he uses here, and the way in which it’s delivered (and gloriously repeated) by the speaker.
Tristan Perich - “1-Bit Symphony: Movement 1” from “1-Bit Symphony”
Tristan Perich has sculpted quite a career for himself making music that uses only a single bit of information at a time. He has released some of these compositions as “albums” that consist of a tiny microchip cleverly built into a clear plastic CD jewel case with an audio headphone jack and a switch to start/stop and skip between “tracks.” It is not a recording so much as a machine that performs the work each time it’s switched on. This track is the first of five movements in Tristan’s “1-Bit Symphony.” For me, it brings to mind minimalist works that I love like Steve Reich’s “Four Organs,” or some of the early Philip Glass Ensemble works.
Carl Stone - “Al-Noor”
Carl Stone has written a patch in Max MSP software that allows him to modulate one recorded or live performance with a completely different performance; he morphs very different musics together to make a strikingly new music. I once did a structured improvisational performance with Carl, and he ran my voice through his patch and morphed me with Vivaldi, the Beatles, a Balkan Choir, and who knows what else! In “Al-Noor,” he starts with a Vietnamese singer’s pure voice and then proceeds to morph and manipulate her so masterfully and subtly that the piece seems to flow seamlessly and elegantly from one sonic world to another.
Åke Parmerud - “Les objets obscurs: I.–” from “Osynlig musik”
Åke Parmarud makes gorgeous multichannel fixed-media works. His works often employ techniques of musique concrète. In this piece, there are four movements. The movements each start with a riddle (read in French) and then he creates a musical version of the riddle by manipulating sounds generated by a single object. I love his treatment of the sounds and of the speaking voice.
Lennon & McCartney - “Revolution 9” from “Modernists,” Alarm Will Sound (Ensemble)
In 1968, to the bafflement of most, the Beatles released a full-on experimental “tape music” piece as the penultimate track of a double LP. The piece was composed entirely of collaged sounds. As a little kid, I was fascinated by it and also found it to be a bit scary. Little did I know that it would turn out to be my first encounter with the kind of music that would eventually become central to my life. I’ve since enjoyed hearing the piece presented in electroacoustic and tape music festivals alongside Stockhausen, Oliveros, and Varèse. In 2008, the New York chamber ensemble Alarm Will Sound, who had previously transcribed and recorded an entire electronica album by Aphex Twin for acoustic instruments, decided to transcribe “Revolution 9” for live performance. I had the pleasure of hearing them perform it at the Bang On A Can Marathon, and I couldn’t believe the accuracy with which they reproduced all of its intricate layers in live performance—with humans playing, singing, and speaking every noise that John Lennon had collaged. ¶