Review by writer/composer Simon Cummings at the occasion of the première of ‘Untamed Choir’ at Østre/Lydgalleriet
My recent travels in Norway—focussed in & around the environs of second city Bergen—yielded plenty of jaw-droppingly splendorous landscape, but nothing in the way of contemporary music. Neither of the city’s CD stores betray any knowledge of the existence of Arne Nordheim, Maja Ratke & the like, while the concert repertoire essentially revolves around the (not unsurprising) omnipresence of Edvard Grieg. However, disappointment was turned on its head during my final morning in the city last Friday, when wandering through the network of backstreets i came upon Østre. An otherwise anonymous building, the billboard outside proclaims it to be a ‘Hus for Lydkunst og Elektronisk Musikk’ (House for Sound Art & Electronic Music); inside, the custodian explained that Østre (formerly the Lydgalleriet) is the only space dedicated to sound art in all of Scandinavia. The collection of books & CDs for sale certainly backed up its avant-garde credentials, & anyone in the Bergen area would do well to check it out, especially within the next couple of weeks.
Østre has two performance spaces, upstairs is a large space, currently housing a very impressive 15-minute sonic art piece called Untamed Choir, by the composer Peter Bogers. With 30 discrete audio channels created using only vocal sounds, Bogers’ piece is presented through 40 speakers hanging from the ceiling, 20 of which are arranged in a central circle; at one end, a ‘timecode’ is displayed over generalised video noise, rapidly counting up or down, ranging through both positive & negative numbers. The main polarisation heard in the work is between distressed sounds—cries & wails of alarm, fear & pain—and sung pitches that allude to chant; this polarisation finds a curious inverse mirror in the projected timecode: the distressed sounds coincide with positive numbers, the choral singing aligned to negative numbers. The work’s power isn’t chiefly derived from this interplay between extremes of vocalisation, but from one’s movement within the space. For while certain points are position critical, sounds whirling around the central circle, the rest of the piece only really speaks when wandering around the suspended speakers, the overall vocal commotion now rendered into points of utter clarity that flash past the ears. Only by doing this can one perceive the immense subtlety of Bogers’ texture, in which highly contrasting sounds sit side by side, anguish & ecstasy just a pace away from each other. An ‘untamed’ choir indeed, full of unsettling beauty & making for a decidedly memorable experience. (Below is collection of photos taken during the performance (click to enlarge), & below that, a short video preview courtesy of Bogers himself).