A Response to the ‘VOICE OVER Mind’ Sound Event Visit at the Western Front Society on March 9, 2017
It’s shortly past 5 pm. I’m cranky and mentally exhausted. With my day stretching thin all the way since 5:30 am, the idea of sticking around till 8 and powering through another several hours before hitting the pillow is as irritating as it gets. I pull myself through space and reluctantly into a nearby coffee shop, trying very hard not to pass out as I look over the ‘VOICE OVER Mind’ sound event details. Out of the two choices left, this one starts earlier and is closer to work. Nobody needs to know the unambitious thought process behind that choice.
As always, I look up every name and detail I can soak up, trying to prep for the variety of awkward moments that are bound to happen. My brain isn’t having it. The words conjured ancestors, ethnomusicologist, physical embodiment of song and spontaneous choral composition briefly stick out, only to fade away. I don’t know what to expect. I randomly wonder if becoming an ethnomusicologist is as complicated as the word itself? Something tells me I’ll be using it in a sentence tonight and saying it completely wrong. Strangely, the thought doesn’t bother me. Nor do I beat myself up when – later on, in a serious conversation during intermission – I call it an ’anthromusician’ instead. Why on earth make a point of using this word though? That must bear some significance on my connection to this event.
Jump to the first half of the performance: DB Boyko, Western Front’s New Music Director and Curator, leads the VOM Choir through what she calls an “improvisation and spontaneous choral composition”. The vocal components are diverse and fragmented. They don’t blend in as seamlessly as one may expect in a choir performance.
Well, the title of the work did read ‘Unusual Singers and Extreme Vocalists’.
A faint headache starts wobbling around in my head. The unsteady amplitude and over abundance of sounds start to make me tipsy. So much for avoiding the bar!
I notice the choir members are in their socks, dressed in unassuming, casual outfits. I ask myself if that has any bearing on my first impression. Am I a conventional audience member? Can attire and appearances sway my judgement? Is there a message behind that gesture?
The visual and theatrical aspects of the choir performance hold my attention, so does the brightly lit TV screen in the apartment window across the street. As the performance continues the various vocal elements become less choppy as a whole. I zoom in and keep a close eye on DB’s individual hand gestures, eyes flipping back and forth in anticipation of which of the voice artists she’s about to tap next. The headache slowly turns into a pleasantly numbing sensation, one that stretches my head to the size of the dark space we’re in. The apartment TV screen draws me in and fills my entire field of vision.
The electro-folk composer, Bill Young’s performance pulls me back to the stage. The VOM Choir sound suddenly reveals a holistic new quality against the backdrop of Bill’s electroacoustic soundscape.
The eclectic, nature-inspired tunes and voices reverberate in a synthesis rippling across centuries, oceans and continents.
Everyone is asked to leave the concert hall for the break. We return to a transformed space. Windows are sealed off and the stage is brought to the centre, there are candles and two bright red rugs adding a warm, intimate touch. I sit where the choir members stood before, frame of mind slightly altered with a touch of booze.
Julia Ulehla, ethnomusicologist, opera singer and vocalist, along with guitarist, Aram Bajakian, walk among the audience as Julia shares words on the Eastern European, Haitian and American folk songs they are about to perform. She’s beaming as her slender figure visibly trembles. There’s a rule I like to see broken. ‘Calm and Composed’ is overrated. She occupies space organically – with bizarre postures and uninhibited movements as though conducting an intense current of some sort. And she does physically embody the melodies she’ll go on to sing and perform. The rest of the performance is wrapped in a surreal sonic fog that blankets over my mind. Traditional folk songs that are completely foreign and yet familiar on a deeper level. Pieces of her heritage she resurrects from a book her great-grandfather wrote back in Moravia, Czech Republic in the 1940’s. Songs and their stories transcribed.
The melodies tap into layers of my psyche I am not sure belong to this life time. The voice transports me beyond anywhere my imagination or memories could have carried me. I am at once anchored and carried away. At once present in the moment and lost in distant times. I wonder if there is such a thing as transcending spaces through one’s ancestral roots. I can no longer say there isn’t.
This feels like an ancient deja-vu spanning centuries, oceans and continents. A twirling of all that is future and all that is past –
and the blurry line where they meet.
Transitioning to a new folk song, Julia invites us all to join her on the floor. It only feels natural to follow along. Sitting down on the soft carpeted floor, I become a piece of a colossal circuit.
I remember the socks and feel like I’ve discovered the connection. The ground is our shared point of connection to planet earth. A common point of unity, regardless of where or when we come from.
I feel grounded and whole.