The first time you witness a truly experimental vocalist, you could be forgiven for believing that you’re watching Vic Reeves’ absurdist comedy. These performers create art from all the stray noises – sibilants, clicks, breaths and plosives – that sound engineers usually try to disguise. Once you get beyond the initial shock and stifled giggles, these performances initiate a profound examination about the nature of sound, the inarticulacy of speech, the limitations of musical instruments and the blurring of melody, harmony and rhythm as categories.
These are all clearly things that interest the American sound artist, composer and saxophonist Lea Bertucci. She is best known for making drone-based, site-specific works that explore acoustics, but Xtended Vox is a compilation of contemporary artists who are doing extraordinary things with their vocal cords. Bertucci herself contributes to one track – a duet with composer Ben Vida, previously of New York outfit Town & Country – featuring garbled whispers and stray burbles that have been put through assorted FX pedals and cut and spliced into a shimmering soundscape.
There is also a three-part suite featuring veteran British vocalist Phil Minton – perhaps the godfather of this school of music – in a duet with cellist and composer Audrey Chen. Anyone who has seen Minton live with assorted avant-jazzers over the past 50 years might be familiar with his sonic arsenal: he growls, babbles, yelps, yodels and barks like a dog, often punctuating his outbursts with creaky throat effects and an assortment of percussive, plosive sounds.
Most impressive might be a nine-minute piece by Berlin-based Turkish vocalist Cansu Tanrikulu, an orchestrated suite of creaks, gasps and glottal effects, linked with electronics and drones, which eventually mutates into a piece of Aphex Twin-like ambient electronica.
Also out this month
Pieces and Interludes (Infrequent Seams) sees New York pianist Eli Wallace pushing the boundaries of the prepared piano. Amid the creaking, scraping, scratching and muted piano riffs are nods to gamelan percussion and the kind of bell-like resonant drones that resemble the work of experimental duo Autechre.
The eponymous album by Suss (Northern Spy Records) is a piece of windswept ambient country music, where the pedal steel and e-bowed guitar manages to sound icy rather than sun-bleached. Auteyn is the pseudonym of Normandy-based composer Benoît Lefèvre, whose mini album Vigiles (Bandcamp) is a piece of ghostly, electro-acoustic orchestral music, featuring horror-movie string arrangements, freeform clarinet freakouts and some pleasing resonant drones. Karu is a stage name for bassist Alberto Brutti, whose An Imaginary Journey (Beat Machine Records) is a compelling psychedelic exploration of traditional music, mixing field recordings with shards of mutilated conversations, hypnotic percussion and sliced-up sax and bass solos.