Voicehandler: Song Cycle

Voicehandler

Humbler CD and download

More from Jacob Felix Heule, this time in a duo setup with Danishta Rivero, who adds vocals and hydrophonium to Heule’s percussion and electronics. All five of the pieces explore humanistic conceits – birth, death, existence, you know the drill – by way of snippets of literary texts, from Burroughs, Borges, Knut Hamsun and the Yakuna indigenous peoples of Venezuela (via Eduardo Galeano). Those texts are fed into text-based or graphical scores, which then guide the duo’s improvisations.

In contrast to the untrammelled free noise of Heule’s other group, Beauty School, the performances are relatively restrained, although this generally works to the group’s advantage. Perhaps it’s the use of texts that keep them focused, with much of the instrumentation seemingly designed to foreground Rivero’s dexterous, often stunning vocal work.

Opener Soñando is a case in point, with a smooth bed of gamelan-style pulses and ripples creating a numinous cocoon of sound. Those gorgeous tones (some of them at least) may well be emanating from the Hydrophonium, an instrument of Rivero’s design consisting of hydrophones submerged in various jars of water.

It’s a curious affair, Max Eastley’s hydrophones mixed with the kind of glassy drones that Andie Brown is so adept at conjuring up in her Those Feathers Have Plums alias. Meanwhile, Rivero croons Galeano’s words in a supple, bossa nova style, singing about the birth of the world, men and women inside a giant egg, and so on.

The album really works when the duo explore similar reflective grooves. On A Meager Labyrinth creates a vibe is as soft as a seed floating on the breeze, Heule alternating between gentle percussion strikes and subtle electronic interventions. Yet, somehow, there is a growing sense of tension. “There is an hour of the afternoon when the plain is on the verge of saying something. It never says it, or perhaps it says it indefinitely.” The text is from Borges’ The End, and the duo’s sparse improvisation captures perfectly the atmosphere of torpor and stress, of imminent violence in the dog day afternoon.

Elsewhere things are noisier. Mi Falible Mano’s  a graphic score is derived for The Library of Babel (Borges again), creating a primal scene of logorrhoea, with Rivero’s grunts, chants and howls matched by Heule’s cymbal scrapes and grumpy clatters.

Then things really explode into fuzzy clouds of scree with I Am a Recording Instrument. Inspired, fittingly, by Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch, the duo kick up a righteous bug powder dust storm. Rivero’s voice here is less like the recording instrument of the title than a weapon of extreme violence, deployed to slice through sinews and boil brains in their skulls as Heule mugs (mugwumps?) us with bursts of shortwave static and bruising tom attack. If some kind of sonic analogue of the chaotic panorama of Burroughs’ heroin-drenched tome was the aim, then the duo has hit the target full on.

Cover your eyes, America!

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Go get it.

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