srijeda, 28. studenoga 2012.

Roomful of Teeth - Roomful of Teeth

roomful of teeth

Novi koralni arhipelag. A capella oktet (osnovao ga je dirigent, pjevač i skladatelj Brad Wells) spaja jodlanje, grleno pjevanje i korale u novo višeglasje za vezanje odbjeglih neurona.

“The reading of the phad should begin not long after sunset. We have a long night ahead of us, and the flame of my voice only really starts to glow around midnight.”
In one of his latest studies on understanding ancient religious practices in modern India, William Dalrymple discusses the practical essence of Rajasthani epic poems. The resonance of this particular quotation ensues not only as a consequence of the delicious metaphor used by the speaker, but also because of the challenge it instigates: The Epic of Pabuji is performed in front of an extended colorful scroll, otherwise known as the phad, and is one of many poems that can take a member of the wandering bhopa caste hours, days, even weeks to sing in its entirety, often under the cover of a kejri tree after a light evening sag as the sun slowly disappears behind enraptured onlookers. There is something about oral tradition and expression — the intertwining of memory and physical capacities for release combined with a desire to tell the most fantastical tales — that is not only integral to spiritual celebration, but that typifies the promise of aptness in drawing huge crowds of people. Very little doubt is to be had in the capability of the human voice in these sacred sequences; vocal expressions are so mesmerizing that divine presence is said to run through the veins of bhopa in the throes of song. When a performer, or a pooled unit, is able to captivate the attention of its audience so tenaciously through the use of vocalization alone, it is truly a wonder to be told.
Brad Wells launched Roomful of Teeth in 2009. His objective was to provide further assurance that the mortal voice is not only the oldest instrument in human history, but that it also one of the most powerful and diverse. As a reputable composer, Wells has explored the contrasts that exist in traditional singing, which he believes to be a reflection of divergences in culture that permeate around the world. Through embracing an age where Bengali baul, Anishinaabe drum dance and Slovakian chamber pop can be accessed on a touchscreen device in rapid succession, Wells’ role as musical director included reflecting on audience participation shifts while building an ensemble that would cooperate in singing a daunting range of styles and compositions that draw on a panoply of global influences. This involved seeking the advice of musicians, composers, and artists from an assortment of backgrounds in addition to casting a classically trained and fully comprehensive octet capable of accomplishing such a thespian undertaking.
The consequential output is not so much a complete body of work, but an insight into concept progress thus far. Though it might appear an expansive canon on approach, this 75-minute masterpiece is merely a glimpse into what the group have been working on since their inception, from Kickstarter funding pitches to the various residencies and installations that ensued after 2009. The magnitude of this beast reads so rapturous on paper, it is difficult to fathom without bearing witness to the intensity of what lies within: Tuvan throat singing is meshed with gospel music and African pygmy yodeling, technocratic spoken word is compressed alongside periodic choral burst, while Eastern European belting is thrust into compositions by Missy Mazzoli, Caleb Burhans, and the unlikely Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs. The ensuing maestros are as adventurous in the compositional escapades they embark upon as they are in projecting their voices, and what they have succeeded in achieving on their debut encapsulates the very nature of a cappella performance - from the heroic memory recall of Indian bhopas to obscure 1950s Korean folk tunes, their output is swept up in a menagerie of latitudes, approaches, and frequencies.
The enterprising character of this project is only exceeded by allied faculties in singing so unthinkably well. Creative direction is greatly shaped by an individual who does not sing with the group, which underlines artistic perseverance; each singer is willing to venture into territory uncharted for the sake of utilizing their vocal adroitness in creating something downright exceptional. This not only refers to how aesthetically pleasing the album is — though Jesse Lewis’ production measures are terrific — but the level of experimentation and unconventionality embodied here is tantamount to overpowering. When the bhopa indicates a glowing in his voice and the flame within, he alludes not only to the sunrise bringing an end to his recital, but also to a fire that dies out naturally with wear and exhaustion. In this instance, the leverage and vivacity that pour from such a young American ensemble is sincerely irrepressible, and despite the presence of an artistic director, their output remains completely untamed.
Listening to the album in its entirety is a test of endurance. Not because Roomful of Teeth are unable to hit notes, maintain stamina, or show signs of development outside of their inventive direction, but quite the opposite. The music is opulent and enthralling, incessant and forceful. It has the potential to seize and to completely overwhelm with its richness in influence and resolve; there is so much to take in that this release needs to be absorbed in fragments and sections as opposed to the elephantine chunk it substantiates. This imaginative congregation exceeds the severity of the most exasperating noise record one might care to think of, and yet it is achieved through organic instrumentation, through the use of vocalization and its natural capacities spread across a format, compelling to the hilt and totally worth exploring.
That intertwining of Alpine yodeling and Tuvan throat singing is one of the most invigorating tactics employed here. Akinisie Sivuarapik, a spectacular throat singer from Nunavik, was one of eight experts brought in by Wells to assist the group in achieving stylistic heights akin to native renditions of the traditions borrowed from. Sivuarapik’s contribution to development is outstanding; the oral techniques deployed here are as though they stem straight from the Inuit heartland. The sound is gruff and rugged, like a trapped bellow that bursts out of lungs wrapped in sandpaper, an immediate contrast to the soaring yelp of the Alpine yodel, which is such an acquired taste and one of the central reasons Roomful of Teeth is difficult to digest in a single sitting. “Cesca’s View” sees the yodel completely exorcised in a brilliant exemplification of pitch blending: the high-ended, powerful solos and the soft, contralto accompaniments that swim covertly underneath. Another astounding example of overtone singing comes on Garbus’ “Quizassa,” which commences with a twirling and rapturous chant à la Kapela ze Wsi Warszawa before the tone drops and deep resonances ensue, devastating pitbull snarls that curl and twist their way across the track, giving rise to some of the most eccentric vocal gymnastics on the album.
Despite so many cultural inspirations being drawn on through production, there is not a single piece here that compromises the groups’ ability in working together solidly as an outfit. The most superb example lies on “Sarabande,” which stands out as being a particular highlight; silken, wily gasps and hums are brilliantly executed and layered on top of one another before a virile choral burst ruptures the beautifully thin harmonies that set the piece in motion. The effect is utterly captivating, a mesmerizing insight into vocal chord capacity; if Wells was looking to exemplify the power of the voice as an ancient instrument, then this track surely embodies affirmative results from that hypothesis better than any other, for it sounds unequivocally spellbinding.
What Roomful of Teeth have achieved here constitutes a significant landmark in the director’s concept realization. It is a document that brings about all of the things he hoped to achieve in projecting these unique and distant styles through a collective unit. The creative aspirations of wonderfully diverse performers are put through their paces and set loose through a wild obstacle course featuring compositions from a most unlikely assortment of musicians and artists. What remains is an impulsive desire to find out which direction the singers would take if left to their own devices, or even if they were to experiment further in improvisational and chance techniques employed by the likes of Rajasthani bhopas. There is so much more to be heard from this group, after all; the octet are due to launch their upcoming tour in 2013 before starting their Wellsley residency in April of that year. Whatever reactions Roomful of Teeth invoke, these extraordinarily talented voices embody soaring flares, bonfires of potential in vocalization that are certain to ignite a lasting glow in experimental a cappella music that shows absolutely no sign of burning out.- Birkut

To judge a cappella octet Roomful of Teeth by their buzz — and their sheer potential — would seem to set the bar unfairly high. A clutch of talented young singers, founded in 2009 by conductor-composer Brad Wells, they've trained in non-Western traditions and have collaborating with fashionable composers. They promised great things before one heard a note from their eight mouths.
But the arrival of their self-titled debut on New Amsterdam Records surpasses all hopes. This is an ensemble that can do anything.
Anything: one second they sing with the smooth, flawless blend of a top-notch vocal jazz group, the next they happily exploit every "extended technique" their voice teachers ever warned them against. They could sound equally at home in Renaissance motets, on American Idol or on an ethnomusicological field recording from Northern Asia.
And sometimes they do everything, within the course of a single piece. Their close relationships with the composers on this disc mean it's tailored to their extraordinary skills. Even the weakest tune here — William Brittelle's embarrassing football madrigal Amid the Minotaurs — becomes a showcase for spectacular vocalism from soloist Virginia Warnken and ensemble; the rest are at least lovely and brilliantly sung, and at best a stunning marriage of singer and song.
Brittelle's New Amsterdam co-founders Sarah Kirkland Snider and Judd Greenstein are represented here too, Greenstein composing the disc's highlights with the gorgeous AEIOU and Run Away. Composer Rinde Eckert, lately the vocalist for Steven Mackey's Grammy-winning Lonely Motel, wrote the album's sweetest melody on the yodeled Cesca's View, and while fans of Merrill Garbus's Tune-Yards project will hardly need to be told that she knows how to build a song by layering far-out vocal effects, her Quizassa and Ansa Ya deserve special mention here — as does Ansa Ya soloist Caroline Shaw, whose alto voice could easily sustain a full-length record on its own, and who ties this album together with her own promising compositional efforts.
Let's be clear: Roomful of Teeth, thanks to their peerless combination of virtuosity and versatility, are the future of vocal music. If there's a composer alive who wouldn't kill to write for them, play him or her this disc. - Daniel Stephen Johnson

The vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, founded and directed by Brad Wells (left).
Roomful of Teeth is an exciting young vocal octet founded just three years ago and directed by Brad Wells. And if the group's name is a little, um, in your face, that's entirely intentional. Their eponymous debut album on New Amsterdam Records (funded via Kickstarter) is a thoroughly 21st-century re-imagining of a capella vocal music — experimental, multi-textured and more than ready to blur the lines between pop and art music.
Their singing is fiercely beautiful and bravely, utterly exposed. There's no electronic wash to hide imperfections, no other instruments add layers of sound. It's just these eight voices gleefully filling up a huge amount of space, and drawing upon a whole world's worth of non-traditional techniques. On the singers' website, you can check out the experts they call upon to explore non-traditional and non-Western singing techniques, from an American master of Tuvan throat-singing named Sean Quirk to Korean traditional vocalist Eun Su Kim.
For this project, Roomful corralled a number of exciting composers to write for them — not just a number of New Amsterdam stalwarts (including label co-directors William Brittelle, Judd Greenstein and Sarah Kirkland Snider), but most famously the polymorphously talented Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, whose "Quizassa" is one of this album's standouts and highlights the band's taste for esoteric vocal techniques. Garbus' song bears a strong resemblance to Inuit experimental vocalist Tanya Tagaq's work (now how's that for obscure?), with a few dollops of doo-wop thrown in for good measure, and somehow it all works out beautifully.
Exoticism, though, isn't the main draw here. Check out this record instead for the group's sheer virtuosity and total joy in the sounds they produce, like the supernuminous lines floating over churning breaths in "Courante," one of singer Caroline Shaw's Baroque-structured compositions that weave through the album like glittering threads, or Judd Greenstein's open-voweled and glowing "A E I O U," or the neo-yodeling (yes, really) of Rinde Eckert's "Cesca's View." It's a tremendously exciting debut — and I can't wait to hear more. - Anastasia Tsioulcas

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting vocal group than Roomful of Teeth. Friday night at Lincoln Center, at the release show for their new album – just out from New Amsterdam – it became clear that to be a part of this band, it’s not only necessary to have powerful pipes and spectacular range, and soul, but also an aptitude for Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, microtones and Balkan music. The nine-piece ensemble, directed with casual assurance by Brad Wells, wowed the crowd with their command of techniques from around the globe, but also with their passion and acuity for a series of almost cruelly difficult, often absolutely gorgeous works by contemporary composers that bring out every octave worth of these singers’ talent.
They opened with a Judd Greenstein piece titled Montmartre. Greenstein is a showy composer and this piece was characteristic, but it had melody to match the theatrics: the women punching in contrapuntally against the mens’ low, oscillating, pulsing throat-singing. The group switched nimbly to lushly shifting ambient harmonies with intertwined call-and-response, soprano Virginia Warnken bringing its central crescendo to a vivid peak. The men ended it with a triumphantly flangey swirl of throat-singing – it’s one thing to do that individually, it’s another to do it in harmony and with the kind of precision they showed off here.
There were two Missy Mazzoli compositions on the bill. The first, Vesper Sparrow, was written just a couple of weeks ago. The women swooped with distant echoes of birdsong which gave way to Mazzoli’s signature swirls of attractively consonant melody with just the hint of apprehension. The women in the group displayed unexpeced power in their low registers, soprano Caroline Shaw lighting the way as the piece took on a considerably somber, plainchant aspect, pulsing richly with every available harmony. The second number, The Shield of the Heart Is the Heart playfully switched from a half-yodeled round to another intricate thicket of shifting polyphony and counterrythms thinly disguising a jaunty doo-wop theme.
The most striking composition on the bill might have been Sarah Kirkland Snider’s The Orchard, sung with vivid uneasse by bass Cameron Beauchamp over rhythmic insistence from the women and warily shifting textures from the rest of the crew. In its dark heart, it turned out to be a pensive, folk-tinged art-rock anthem for choir. After a descent into moody ambience, the ensemble let it linger austerely at the end. In its own understated way, it was a showstopper.
The night’s wildest momehts came during William Brittelle’s dramatically shapeshifting Amid the Minotaurs. Brittelle has great musical wit, and this triptych was loaded with it. Inspired by famed Alabama coach Bear Bryant, who died barely a month after retiring from football, it juxtaposed a deadpan, sarcastic hymn with faux-operatic cheerleading and finally a power ballad of sorts that had Warnken namechecking Louis Farrakhan at the top of her register at full gale force: as Brittelle’s lyrics made clear beyond any doubt, death is not the least bit subtle.
Other works on the bill included a Shaw composition, Courante, its rustic, hymnal melody featuring vivid high/low contrasts speckled with unexpectedly jarring accents and bookended by whispery, breathy rhythmic interludes. Rinde Eckert’s Cesca’s View also explored rustic Americana, setting leaping, yodeling motifs against a warmly nocturnal backdrop punctuated by clever echo effects.
A piece by mErRiLl gArBuS, tHe oNcE aNd fUtUrE tUnEyArDs, wAs A sIgNaL tHaT iT wAs tImE tO lEaVe [sorry, couldn't resist]. With groups like these, the obvious stars are found at the extremes: high soprano Esteli Gomez, with her effortless, spun-silk timbre; Shaw with her powerful, crystalline delivery; Beauchamp, who’s not afraid to go down low for laughs as well as power; and baritone Dashon Burton, who not only matched Beauchamp for lowdown impact, but also showed off a dazzling falsetto. Tenor Eric Dudley, soprano Martha Cluver and baritone Avery Griffin also had dazzling moments of their own, particularly when it came to throat-singing. For sheer thrill factor, on a good night for music, Roomful of Teeth were impossible to surpass. -

On Saturday, February 25th, Roomful of Teeth gave an exciting concert on the Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Hall.  But just who is this group with a fantastic name and what sets them apart from other vocal ensembles?  In an interview with WBUR (Boston’s NPR news station), Caleb Burhans, a composer who has written for them, contends that, “Roomful of Teeth…can sing anything extremely well and in any style, and on top of that, imagine a choir that yodels and throat sings and does all these crazy things, and they do that equally as well as they do singing like Renaissance polyphony.  They’re just a phenomenally talented group of singers….” Strong praise, it’s true, but given what these fantastic vocalists demonstrated in their February 25th performance, this vocal octet most certainly deserves those accolades and more.
Roomful of Teeth and Glasser - Photo David Andrako
Roomful of Teeth was founded in 2009 by Brad Wells (the group’s music director) to “bring the full range of the human voice back together.”  To that end, the group incorporates vocal techniques from countless diverse styles from around the world (everything from pop belting to yodeling to tuvan throat singing, to Sardinian and Korean vocal techniques, to vocal percussion effects are included), and seamlessly blending those styles with the beauty and purity of tone that they bring to Western choral repertoire.  In fact, a number of the pieces on this program perfectly highlighted both of these strengths, shifting rapidly between dissonant and angular fragments, sometimes on pitch, sometimes not, and lush, full choral effects.  The demand for precision was intense, as only seconds separated sudden movement from yelps, growls, shouts, and spoken text to tonal, lyrical phrases.  In addition, the vast repertoire of the group’s sounds was overwhelming and the thought of “How the heck did they do that?” crossed my mind not a few times that evening.  Featured composers included Sarah Kirkland Snider, Caroline Shaw (an alto in the group), Rinde Eckert, Merrill Garbus, Judd Greenstein, and, most notably, Cameron Mesirow of Glasser, a composer-singer whose music was the focus of the program’s second half.  Meisrow’s vocals have a fragile and untrained quality and were the perfect vehicle for her pensive love ballads (the pre-recorded electronic instrumentals of which were played over the house sound system), and her seeming ingenuousness and gracious acknowledgement of the audience was charming besides.  Glasser’s music was especially powerful when accompanied by the ROT vocalists, and I hope that this performance encourages future collaborations between the two groups.
Cameron Mesirow - Photo David Andrako
While all of Roomful of Teeth’s singers are fantastic musicians and virtuosi soloists in their own right, two really stood out.  In particular, Esteli Gomez, a soprano with a floating, angelic voice and a powerful presence, sang breathtakingly lovely solos.  The energetic mezzo-soprano Virginia Warnken was another vocal standout, using her sultry lower register to great effect especially in Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “The Guest” and Merrill Garbus’s “Ansa Ya.”
Roomful of Teeth and Glasser’s collaboration offered a musically thrilling performance to those fortunate enough to be in the room. For anyone who missed the show, the entire audio of the performance is available on Q2’s website. To learn more about Glasser, visit:
Lauren Alfano

Links: Roomful of Teeth - New Amsterdam

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