Saturday, April 3, 2010

Range Rover

Hirayama finds lost Scelsi tones at REDCAT

Michiko Hirayama, left; Giancinto Scelsi, right.

by Joseph Mailander

When the chanteuse on the bill is eighty-seven years young, the temptation is to diminish expectations.

When the chanteuse is obliged to sing songs without words that are variously redolent of tortured parrots, secret dolphin communications, fax machines called in error, and being stuck with a drunken aunt in the back seat of a car on a long road trip, the temptation is to have no expectations at all.

But last night at REDCAT, Michiko Hirayama contorted, hobbled, mugged, pounded, and screeched her way through Giancinto Scelsi's cycle of "songs" written for her voice half a long lifetime ago, Canti del Capricorno to an abundantly appreciative audience who were able to acknowledge both singer and cycle as quirky but recognizable masterpieces.

From the opening canto, in which Hirayama, wearing a gong breast-plate, was obliged to sing while pounding alternately with a cupped clapper and her bare hand (it has been recorded; you can listen to an earlier recording here), through several solos and also accompanied by saxophone, bass, or Latin percussion sections, the song cycle kept ratcheting up higher and higher degrees of microtonality even while most segments preserved discernible twelvetone melodies.

It was a special delight to hear the full-winded meta-diva find full voice in the songs that hovered around and above C5. In fact, she only seemed to become stronger as the evening went on. Moving deliberately between various microphone stations and the large unfurling scores, taking the side of a three-quarter bass or a saxophone or the congas and bongos, she found more energy with every cautious step.

Concluding the evening with a vertically-held wind instrument I didn't recognize (but it's in this Ravenna Festival video at 2:46), as she softly pounded the floor with it and left it to stand upright on its muted bell, all comers were satisfied that they had seen some possibilities in the human voice that haven't been emphasized in music before, and rewarded the octogenarian with a lush and sustained ovation.

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