Vocal Instant Composition

Review “Church Songs for the 21st Century” by Alison Isadora

We sent our latest CD out prior to its upcoming release, and the first reviews are coming in from colleagues around the globe. This one is from New Zealand born composer Alison Isadora.

Genetic Choir Church Songs _ front“The Genetic choir have produced a CD with 9 tracks recorded in a North Holland church.

I listened with headphones through my computer which I think probably gives a different experience than listening in a larger space. I didn’t have titles which might have encouraged specific interpretations while listening. Having read in the well presented and informative booklet that these titles were added later, I feel that my ignorance can be justified!

As a composer I listen rather ‘technically’ but am hopeful that my insights may also be useful for the generic audience member.

The CD starts with whispering before settling into more melodic phrases with a rhythmic accompaniment. Although we can hear that the choir is singing in a church, the voices are always close to us. There is an immediacy to the voices. As with many of the pieces on this CD, the use of a sense of a constant tonality and the presence of ostinato figures offers support for those listeners who may find the vocal adventures challenging.

In other tracks dense textures break open into jungle-like screams, croaks and gasps. A drone may give continuity within these rich and varied sonic landscapes. Silence may also act as a musical parameter.

In Track 3 I asked myself whether I was listening to an African language or an imagined one. The Genetic choir have developed their own vocabulary – a combination of vowels and consonants which is at once totally believable and yet seductively mysterious.

Sometimes, as in Track 4, there are for me clear historical references. The combination of the absence of intelligible language, vocal experimentation and ostinato figures is reminiscent of Meredith Monk’s work. The Genetic choir is at it’s most convincing when their musical material is confined, as is the case in this piece.

(1) ChurchSongsCD back_notsquareTrack 5 begins with clear material which quickly grows into a dense polyphonic structure only to empty out again to a drone moment which again develops into another layered sound environment. This process of waves of sound continues until an explosive and unexpected end.

In other pieces long slow contrapuntal lines coexist with fast ostinato figures. It is fascinating to hear how ideas develop, how melodic lines are shared, inverted and expanded. A melody that starts life as diatonic may move to a microtonal version and back again within the length of a breath.

Throughout the album there is a consistency in melodic material, a predeliction for drones and ostinato figures and a great willingness to explore and accept the richness of sounds a voice can make. We hear how musical ideas are embraced, expanded, developed and varied. This is group improvisation at its best. The limitations of the voice becomes a great advantage in an improvised environment. The length of a breath encourages a natural phrasing to emerge that is most satisfying.

From the booklet I read that no musical agreements were made before the performances that are presented on this CD. I would be interested to hear how a group with this level of musical sensitivity would respond to more contained musical environments. More please!”

Alison Isadora