16 May 2017
Resonant Bodies - from New York to Melbourne
In 2014 American vocalist Lucy Dhegrae invited me to present a program at Resonant Bodies, the festival she founded in New York City in 2013. The brief was a rare gift: 45 minutes in which to do whatever I liked. I could explore a corner of the vocal repertoire that was a preoccupation of mine at that time, or I could focus on a particular kind of vocal sound or vocal technique; I could commission a new work, or invite a collaborator to create something new with me.
It may not be obvious, but this is not usually how singers are booked to perform. Usually someone else has a notion that a particular piece suits a particular voice and asks that person to sing it. If the singer agrees that it works for them, they sign on. What Lucy recognised is that singers all over the place have very personal ideas about what's interesting about the human voice and the singing body, and about what their own voice can do, but there are few outlets to present these ideas in performance.
I shared the festival with Gelsey Bell, Christie Finn, Ariadne Greif, Sharon Harms, Ben Hjertmann, Mellissa Hughes, Megan Schubert, and Dennis Sullivan. We all did whatever we wanted. What I chose to do was present a set of recently composed works which were very varied in style but which were united by a preoccupation with presenting text in a fragmented way, reducing phonemic materials to the purely sonic. Greif presented an excerpt from a larger project in development, a staged sequence of meditations on sleep and dreaming by a range of composers she had commissioned; Hughes worked with director Kelvin Chan to create a choreographed performance of Kurtag's Kafka Fragments; and Dennis Sullivan, who is a vocalising percussionist, performed works by Georges Aperghis and Alexander Schubert, and presented a new work of his own which used text by rapper B. Dolan.
As soon as the festival was over it was clear to me that this kind of thing would go over very well with the geographically disparate array of adventurous vocalists in Australia - that they would appreciate not only the gift of total artistic freedom but also the creation of a place to share ideas and meet like minds. It also seemed like a great way to create a strong connection to the vocal community in the USA. I had just begun a friendship with my compatriot Jessica Aszodi and she was preparing her own performance for Resonant Bodies 2015; it seemed a no-brainer that we should collaborate on giving to our colleagues in Australia what Lucy had given to us. With Lucy's blessing, Jess and I began working together as co-directors of Resonant Bodies in Australia.
Earlier this month Jess and I kicked off its first iteration at Melbourne Recital Centre, who presented us as part of Metropolis New Music Festival (see details for the concert on 5 May). Metropolis's theme for this year was new music for old instruments and we were thrilled to be presenting music written for the oldest instrument there is. Our one-night event featured two world premieres, one by Elliott Gyger, one by Natasha Anderson. It featured composer-vocalist Carolyn Connors in a new solo work; Israeli-American composer and improviser Odeya Nini; the return to Melbourne of Jason Eckhardt's glossolalic work Dithyramb; and a true gem of the vocal avant-garde, Peter Maxwell Davies's Eight Songs for a Mad King, performed by Melbourne-based baritone Matthew Thomas. The night culminated in a performance of Pauline Oliveros's Sonic Mediation #16 in which the whole audience took part. We had a dream team of players with us: Aviva Endean (clarinet), Eric Lamb (flute), Charlotte Jacke (cello), Peter Neville (percussion), Jack Symonds (piano), and Lizzy Welsh (violin). And thanks to Creative Victoria, we were able to bring Lucy Dhegrae out to join us in Melbourne.
Resonant Bodies is already planning for 2018. The major festival will take place in NYC in September as always, but in addition satellite festivals are happening in Chicago and Los Angeles, and I'm very excited to say we'll be back in Australia too.
If you want to stay updated on Resonant Bodies' activities in Australia and beyond, head to any of the following:
Jessica Aszodi - homepage
Jane Sheldon - homepage
© Australian Music Centre (2017) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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