The 4th Annual Vital Vox Vocal Festival (2012/13)
featuring Pamela Z, Sasha Bogdanowitsch and The Loom Ensemble and Trio, Unearthish (Sarah Bernstein and Satoshi Takeishi), Philip Hamilton, and Lisa Karrer with David Simons
Roulette, Brooklyn, NY
Monday, March 25th, and Tuesday, March 26th, 2013
After its postponement from the planned October dates last year due to Hurricane Sandy, The 4th annual Vital Vox Festival at Roulette finally commenced a year and a half after its last appearance in November 2011, and this year’s show was focused on the use of vocals with electronics. Displaying, as always, a variety of styles, abilities, and combinations of instruments, I can say with great certainty that all of these acts proved that they have immense creativity with a technology that continues to astound, titillate and baffle me.
First Night–Monday, 3/25
The show began ever so radiantly with Philip Hamilton, and the beginning of his set was without effects, displaying only the depth of his dynamic vocal in a stark but rich atmosphere. He then progressed to using delay effects and looping for the rest of his sequence titled Vocalscapes: Solitude. His use of electronics, which later on during the Q&A he revealed was being used for the first time ever, was astonishingly rhythmic in its musicality, and his sharp and muscular voice provided a crisp, bright, worldly and invigorating breath of fresh air that set the pace for the rest of the evening’s program.
The Loom Trio, comprised of 3 members of the Loom Ensemble (Vocalist/dancers Kate Hamilton and Raphael Sacks along with composer/vocalist and curator/creator of Vital Vox, Sasha Bogdonawitsch) then provided a program with the theatrical elements of their ensemble’s stage production Erosion: a Fable and doing it in a paired-down suite. It was a very interesting thing to see this trio performing mostly a cappella with samples via an audio box that had the most space-age-like appearance (taking us to a sort of sci-fi fantasia) when the 3 of them took turns pressing the instrument for a backward-loop motif between the songs, not to mention the fact that the three singers were all barefoot and Kate Hamilton wore a concert gown that gave this show an element of classical grandeur, and on a few of the pieces they also played a steel halo that had the most beautifully earthly sound.
Unearthish (Sarah Bernstein on electric violin and Satoshi Takeishi on various percussion) wrapped up the first night with a superb avant-garde set of art songs that had both vocals and spoken word, and some dynamic string playing from Bernstein that went between classically virtuosic and aggressively anti-traditional. Takeiski, with his minimal kit of what looked like only a large snare drum and crash cymbal, at times proceeded to thrash the kit just short of tearing it to pieces but succeeding in destroying his brushes–He also had a dumbek among other exotic things, and occasionally also provided some electronics with a small tape recorder and some other wooden thing that squeaked (Seriously, I have no what idea what it was). The duo’s program resulted in giving the show a downtown vibe reminiscent of Bang On a Can and The Stone.
Second Night–Tuesday, 3/26
Lisa Karrer, assisted by David Simons (who worked laptop projection and even played some theremin), kicked off night two with mostly visually-driven works. Karrer used a program on a laptop that allowed her to make her own outline body shapes on the projection screen (I think she described this as a program known as Max MSD). Karrer, an admirable performer, appears to not be afraid to let humor into her art as she gave both a cacophonous meditation on opera (“Opera Within The Opera”) riddled with cliches of the high-art culture, and a rendition of the Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer song “Moon River” performed in what sounded like a drunken but merry married-for-many-years-couple persona (Karrer announced beforehand that it was dedicated to a couple she knew that was at the show).
Loom Ensemble (in a slightly-bigger configuration than the previous night’s trio but not quite the full ensemble) performed a mini-ballet titled Timbre Tree, and with its theme of self-discovery through losing one’s way, the group were working every angle of their abilities as dancers and musicians, and even acrobatics as the piece’s choreographer, Michael Bauer, stole the show with probably the best personification of the moment of self-advancement in his Cyr wheel performance. Sasha Bogdanowitsch also astounds me as a musician throwing in diggery doo and an ancient flute (on top of beautifully-mastered loops of vocals along with his own live vocals) that provided great atmosphere to the dancers’ story.
After a long pause where she had to do some re-programming after what seemed to be a technical snag, Pamela Z finally proceeded to close the evening and the festival with a compelling set of art songs with fascinating technology as well as visual projections. My favorite moment was her live video sampling, which we were able to see projected immediately after the fact, and building it up into a symphony of vocal sounds. A moment (albeit unintentional) of ironic levity occurred when she got to the spoken-word piece that has her typing a letter because “my computer is broken”, with the memory of the technical mishap still fresh in our minds. On the mishap itself, in Pamela’s defense, I have seen such snags from the likes of performers like Zoe Keating beforehand, and sometimes I get the sense that electronics-driven new music is music that isn’t always compatible when things like the laptop crashing or something physical like a pulled plug happen, as it did momentarily the previous night during the Loom Trio, but most of the time these performers are capable of getting past the worst of it with flying colors.
Once again, Vital Vox turns in a fascinating round of performances that hopefully will continue in the years to come, and also will get the coverage it deserves.