Danish Randi Pontoppidan, British Phil Minton, German Ute Wassermann, Dutch Jaap Blonk and Slovenian Irena Z. Tomažin keep expanding the frontiers of the human vocals.
Randi Pontoppidan - Rooms (Chant Records, 2019) ****½
Danish experimental vocalist-sound poet-composer-improviser-educator Randi Pontoppidan has worked with some of the greatest bass players of our times - Greg Cohen (their duo, Event Horizon, released its debut album, Space Geode on Chant, 2018), Joëlle Leánder and Jamaaladeen Tacuma as well as with Danish poet Morten Søndergaard, sax hero Lotte Anker and pianist Jakob Davidsen. She is also in-demand vocalist in the contemporary classical world, working with Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices and performing works by Steve Reich, David Lang, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage.
Pontoppidan’s first solo album Rooms finds her exploring many rooms of her own, tp paraphrase Virrginia Woolf, using only her voice, filtered through various loops and electronic effects and machines. Pontoppidan reaches the outer limits and the deepest secrets of her own voice - processed, multiplied and layered, and sketches an arresting series of imaginative and highly nuanced soundscapes, ranging from the angelic and spiritual (“Hush of Expectation”, “Mari Si”), to playful sound poetry (“Dunh”), abstract industrial sounds (“Industrious - Moving Castle”), icy, sparse minimalism (“Arctic”, “Tidal”), Reich-ian tribal pulse (“Dis Appearence”) and hymnal and meditative (“Dreamy”). When the listening experience of Rooms takes over - and it happens quite fast, you may forget that all these colorful, suggestive sounds are made only by a human voice. You may feel abducted by friendly aliens, gifted with a thousand, singing tongues, tempting and charming in many magical, wordless languages, and happy to share their untimely, infinite wisdom with the attentive listeners.
Randi Pontoppidan & Christian Rønn - Head Space (Chant, 2020) ***
Pontoppidan returns with Head Space, a meeting with fellow Danish electro-acoustic composer-improviser Christian Rønn, known from the free jazz trio Blind Mans Band, who plays here on the Wurlitzer piano and electronics. Pontoppidan and Rønn claim that the combination of her heady, vocal-improvisations and electronics and his fierce amplified Wurlitzer “took off to the hemisphere.”
Pontoppidan and Rønn have choose to travel in loose and barren atmospheric landscapes, letting Pontoppidan operatic vocal flights disperse slowly and gently into thin space, echoed by the sparse, resonating Wurlitzer sounds of Rønn. The most interesting pieces are the ones that subvert this monotonous, deserted attitude, where the dynamics gravitate towards more tense, noisy collisions as on “Waterproof”, “Udspring” and “Gamma”.
Speak Easy - @ Konfrontationen (Confront Records, 2019) ****
Speak Easy is the quartet of British vocal artist Phil Minton with German vocal artist-sound poet Ute Wassermann, who adds bird whistles to her vocals, percussionist Martin Blume, and Vienna-based Thomas Lehn on analogue EMS synthesizer. This free-improvising quartet has been active since 2008 and released its debut album, Backchats (Creative Sources, 2009), a live recording from Bochum, Germany from March 2008, followed by a DVD, The Loft Concert (PanRec, 2009), documenting a performance from a day later. The sophomore album is another live recording, captured at the Austrian Konfrontationen festival in Nickelsdorf on July 2016.
The audience of the Konfrontationen festival is the perfect one for this kind of eccentric quartet, familiar with all its musicians and eager to be startled and amazed by more and more eccentricities. And Speak Easy (a nickname for secret, intimate bars who sold drinks during the prohibition ban on alcohol in the United States, 1920-1933) provides exactly this recipe - 52 minutes of “Speechless”, a wild, funny, intense piece, one that never ceases to offer weird sonic inventions and strange yet emphatic dynamics. No doubt, Minton, Wassermann, Blume and Lehn found their very own way of speaking - urgent, easy, touching, intoxicating, sometimes with subtle, explosive noises, but always ready to share their most intimate secrets and teach their new languages to the curious, adventurous listeners.
Ute Wassermann, Jaap Blonk & Michael Vorfeld (Kontrans, 2019) ***½*
Dutch experimental vocal artist-sound poet-electronics player Jaap Blonk’s own label, Kontrans, has a line of releases - improvisors - that documents his free-improvised meeting with like-minded musicians. Kontrans has released Blonk’s meetings with Mats Gustafsson and Michael Zerang, Maja Ratkje, Jeb Bishop and Frank Rosaly.
This release documents Blonk’s meeting with Berlin-based, fellow experimental vocal artist Ute Wassermann, who also plays on assorted whistles, “kutu wapa, frog buzzer and mirliton” and percussionist and visual artist Michael Vorfeld, who adds to his arsenal string instrument and light bulbs. It was recorded at AudioCue Tonlabor, Berlin, on March 2018. Like Rooms, this trio also offers 13 distinct pieces, but contrary to the introspective, reserved atmosphere of Rooms, this trio experiments with the wild, weird and noisy. These three hyperactive and reckless adults - alien bards, as one of the pieces is titled - play an endless, dadaist tag while soaring higher and higher into their sonic universes, Luckily, Wasserman, Blonk and Vorfeld share the same kind of humor and like risk-taking, hectic games. These three improvisers even succeed to create a surprising intimacy, but sometimes you may want to ask them to slow down a bit.
JeJaWeDa - Pioneer Works, Vol. 1 + Pioneer Works, vol. 2 (Balance Point Acoustics, 2019) ***½*
This new quartet JaJeWeDa features trombonist JEb Bishop, JAap Blonk, both adds electronics, plus the powerful rhythm section of percussionist WEsel Walter and double bass player DAmon Smith. The quartet debuted in the spring of 2019 with a series of concerts in the Northeast of the USA, but Blonk had collaborated before with Smith (North of Blanco and Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut-und Klanggedichte 1916 (Six Sound Poems, 1916), both released by Balance Point Acoustics, 2014). The new quartet debut releases - Pioneer works Vol. 1, a disc with a booklet of artworks by Blonk, and Pioneer works Vol. 2, a cassette with an unpublished sound poetry score by Blonk from 2001 (and a lime green tape), were released before a short autumn tour of the quartet.
The first volume, recorded at Pioneer Works, New York on March 2019, offers a wild, noisy, funny and urgent, free-improvising quartet where Blonk employs his vocals as another instrument, competing with the strong personalities and impressive sense of invention of Walter, Bishop and Smith, as all sound as getting closer and closer to a sonic meltdown. After a short “Warm Up”, all dive into the 30-minutes of “Work Out” where anything can happen and does happen, a total freak out of possessed dynamics. JaJeWeDa is supposed to “Cool Down” on the last piece, but this option does not exist in this quartet manual, and we get another playful, dadaist piece that by no means succeeds to exhaust the quartet’s energy. The second volume, recorded at the same place, same date, suggests a loose, structured texture. It often sounds like an eccentric, chamber texture. Blonk is the natural leader and main protagonist, staging a mix of fairy-horror tale with his hyperactive, playful comrades.
Irena Z. Tomažin - Cmok v grlu / Lump In The Throat (Sploh, 2019) ***1/*
Slovenian Irena Z. Tomažin experiments with fragmented vocals and bodily sounds produced between-with-after-at the realization of the voice. Her voice is deliberately morphed into extended noises with repetitive movements of the tongue, soft palate, throat muscles, teeth and air in micro resonating spaces of the oral cavity. The first, brief 11 pieces reflect Tomažin’s latest experiments with her voice, while the last, extended five improvisations are taken from her audiovisual installation piece, “Faces Of Voices # Noise’”, a production of MoTA – Museum For Transitory Art. This material was transformed and re-composed for Cmok v grlu / Lump In The Throat, her fourth album.
There are no words, melody or rhythm, at least not in any conventional sense of these concepts, but pure, highly adventurous, expressive and often unworldly and enigmatic sound art that keeps pushing for more edgy frontiers. Tomažin sounds on the first 11 pieces as willing to communicate only in her own terms. The other five pieces offer more complex and elaborate soundscapes, stressing how far and profound is her vocal artistry. These pieces move from the mysterious and silent “Zataknjeno za zobmi” to the spoiled and playful “Drobovje ust", the extraterrestrial chat of “Klic meduze”, the emotional lament of “Črna ovca” and the cryptic choir of “Neko drugo krdelo”