2010, Music

The Element Choir at Rosedale United (2010)

It must be hard to be in the art music field these days. Sure, you’ve got a world of genres to play with – most of them unknown or nonexistent in the recent past – but sometimes having too much choice is worse than having little choice. (Actually, that’s true a lot of the time.) If you’re a composer, for example, how do you decide what to work in? I guess you pick what you like. But, how then do you get attention? What if you decide that the idiom for you is electronic music but the establishment doesn’t recognize such music as worthy of study? (To pick just one possible example.) Honestly, I don’t know what you do but follow your muse and hope somebody notices. If that muse results in something that enough people think is remarkable – as it does here – then that’s good.

Is this jazz or choral music or something else? I have no idea. I’ve read that this kind of thing – choirs trained to respond to specific cues, which they don’t know the order of ahead of time – has been done before, but I’ve never heard it. Frankly, I’ve never heard anything like this. The only thing I can think of that sounds remotely like it is some of Berio’s work, which is very much not jazz (and pretty far off, actually). It’s likely that I just haven’t listened to enough music in this sphere to know where this comes from, so it’s surprising.

This is incredible stuff: a massive choir which responds to the conductor at her whim – as opposed to with a conventional orchestra, where they know what’s coming next – making all sorts of weird sounds, backed by a band that sounds like free jazz musicians. I do not know to what extent the music is written out ahead of time (particularly for the instrumentalists, rather than the choir) but it sounds to me like the melody lines for the instrumentalists might have been conceived of in advance (probably were) whereas the choir’s behaviour is much freer (as much as such a large group’s behaviour could be called “free”).

This was recorded live in a church in Toronto over two nights and I can’t help but wish I had been there. It must have been an incredible experience and if I ever hear of another performance from an ensemble like this, I’ll really have to get to it, as I can’t imagine what it’s like to see it in person.

Really incredible stuff.


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