Thursday, March 19, 2015

Adventurous voices: Odeya Nini and Gelsey Bell at Roulette

Odeya Nini
(photo courtesy of the artist)
Odeya Nini (l) and Gelsey Bell (r)
(photos courtesy of Odeya Nini)

When two barefoot wizards of vocal music sing you into sublimity, it's time to turn over for a nice, warm sleep. Unfortunately, last night, I had to leave Roulette, walk through the pre-spring chill and navigate the subway system. The charm of the final moments of A Solo Voice: Works by Odeya Nini and Gelsey Bell was, of necessity, followed by MTA charmlessness. But I will long remember singer-composers Nini (hailing from LA) and Bell (from around these parts) for their lovely efforts.

The collaborators presented a two-hour show with separate sets culminating in a jointly improvised piece, Spent Horizon, a kind of sonic woodland. Here their voices soared from opposite ends and levels of the theater, from balcony to stage, in birdlike call and response, overlapping and mingling, before the women slowly approached each other in an aisle, embraced and exchanged flyways as they drew apart.

This exploration of voice in trajectories of space is key to how Nini, in particular, wants us to understand vocal music. For her, as demonstrated in her 40-minute opening set, A Solo Voice, the moving body and the imaginative voice combine in a unified expression with elements of composition and improvisation. This carries the willing viewer and listener along through ethereal moments or ones that can pounce and grab and pierce. In other sections of this piece, Nini fills space with rich sampled sounds smoothly flowing into one another--some of this: bleating sheep, a creaking door, a whistler, gurgling water and what might have been eggs frying--and whirly tubes that simultaneously sing at varying pitches and make visible shapes in the air.

Bell's set, including four pieces before Spent Horizon, is cagey and fierce. Her combinations of vocal sounds can sound irrational with lines suddenly strangled or lyrics--briefly surfacing from her primal surround--that reveal disturbing histories. You come to suspect that even her melodic Now It Catches the Gleam of the might harbor something questionable underneath its honey-sweet and quiet, quiet, ever quieter repetitions. Those repetitions are a bit maddening. I'm thinking, Lullabye? Not so much. And, sure enough, there it is in Bell's program notes:
"Now It Catches the Gleam of the" was developed from my work with Gregory Whitehead on his radio piece Dimly Seen, which will air in May. Dimly Seen focuses on current American torture practices and uses the text of Francis Scott Key that was set in "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Click here to download Odeya Nini's debut CD, Vougheauxyice (Voice), released last April. Gelsey Bell's albums can be found here.

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