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Saturday, February 20, 2021

Two Duos of Vocal Artist Phil Minton

By Eyal Hareuveni

British pioneer vocal artist Phil Minton turned eighty this year. Minton’s close collaborators in the last decade are the Berlin-based, fellow-vocal artist Audrey Chen and Viennese turntables wizard dieb13.

Audrey Chen & Phil Minton - Frothing Morse (Tour de Bras, 2020) ****

Minton said recently in an interview to The Wire that “singing with Audrey is like working with all the possible noises of the universe and beyond, earthquakes, colliding galaxies and slugs sliding down a wet window, very quiet. It’s endured because we love working together and some people in the world ask us to perform for them and give us a meager wage”. Frothing Morse is the second album of this duo, following By the Stream (Sub Rosa, 2013).

The title-piece was recorded live at the Santa Chiara Nuova church in Lodi, Italy, during the ImprovvisaMente festival in November 2015. The intense and fearless, dadaist conversational duet aims to go deeper than the textual level as Minton and Chen explore the most inherent bodily instruments and search for enigmatic, unintelligible and incomprehensible means of communication that leave behind all common elements of language, syntax, or vocabulary. Chen and Minton sound like one, two-headed vocal organism, interacting in a total telepathic manner. They explore together an expressive and highly nuanced spectrum of feelings and moods, from the meditative and ritualist, through the sensual and passionate, and, obviously, to the eccentric and grotesque, but with an arresting sense of timing, storytelling and emotional drama.

Phil Minton & dieb3 - With, Without (Klanggalerie, 2020) ****

Minton and dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič, a generation younger from Minton) work were scarcely documented so far - the DVDr’s (Unlimited 23, PanRec, 2011, and im Pavillon, PanRec, 2013), both captured short performances at the Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria. With, Without is a collage of Minton and dieb13 performances from the Unlimited festival in 2009, through three performances in Vienna, one at the Instants Chavires Festival in Montreuil, France in 2016 and the last one from the Disobedience Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 2017).

Minton refrains on these performances from referencing literary texts as he did in many previous free-improvised meetings before (he has sung lyrics by William Blake with Mike Westbrook's group, Ho Chi Minh with Veryan Weston and more recently Daniil Kharms and Joseph Brodsky with Simon Nabatov, and sang extracts from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake with his own ensemble). With dieb13 he employs his dramatic baritone only with extended vocal techniques, deconstructing every possible facet of the human voice into free-form train of abstract and eccentric retching, burping, screaming, gasping, childlike muttering, whining, crying, whistling and humming sounds, or as Minton himself calls it: "belching obscene incoherent rubbish", often with what seems like as a tortured body language that enhances the abstract narrative.

These series of free-associative and imaginative gibberish of human voices were framed and orchestrated brilliantly in real-time by dieb13, always attuned to every nuance of Minton’s vocalizations, and injecting loose but coherent threads to Minton’s wild vocal journeys. On With, Without, dieb13 mixed and edited again these performances into an hour plus piece. The subtle and clever orchestration of dieb13 often extends and twists Minton’s manic vocalizations into alien and sometimes perfectly fitting cartoonish sonic universes. But at other times dieb13 charges these eccentric yet very emotional vocalizations with ironic comments, adds surprising depth and colors the crazed vocal eruptions with dense and unsettling urban noises. There are even brief segments where dieb13 matches sax pieces that trick Minton into brief, playful jazz-y duets. Typically, it ends with Minton articulating his clear desire to go to sleep. Obviously, no words were needed.


Nick Metzger said...

Great piece Eyal, Minton is a treasure. I think his collabs with Audrey Chen are some of his best work, they really push and complement eachother.

Paul said...

First time I saw Minton perform was at the Blow Out! festival ... two different groups, the first was the experimental style, and it was at times astounding and other times perplexing. Then, he performed with pianist Veryan Weston, and it was just simply astounding. I went in a bit skeptical, but truly came away with an appreciation of his work.