Sainkho Namchylak / Dickson Dee

August 26, 2011

Tea Opera

Leo Records CD LR 537

Lawrence Casserley & Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg

Mouth Wind

Hermes HD CD 012

Experimental improvising enthuses creative listeners because most of the time no one literally knows what sounds will remerge next. Plus the juxtaposition of any two timbres can be utterly dissimilar depending on which players are involved. Few CDs illustrate this better than these sessions. Although both involve a single vocalist and an electronic musician, each is unique with few points of congruence.

Tuvan vocalist Sainko Namchylak has spent the past few decades adapting a variant of her country’s traditional singing to the rigors of hard-core improvisation with the likes of saxophonist Evan Parker and the Moscow Composers Orchestra, to pick two. Her partner on Tea Opera, recorded in Xiamen, China is Dickson Dee, who not only uses live electronics on the nine selections but also recorded the proceedings. A Chinese polymath who bounces among sampling, musique concrète and industrial noise, Dee has collaborated with players as different as guitarist Otomo Yoshihide and synthesizer player/vocalist Maja Ratkje.

While in many instances Namchylak’s tonal expressions are thought of the zenith of avant-garde vocalizing, at points she could be warbling schmaltzy ballads when compared to the verbal inflections emanating from Brussels-based Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg. Individualistic throat, breath and tongue gymnastics are his stock-in-trade, with his mouth as much a sound source on Mouth Wind as Briton Lawrence Casserley’s signal processing instrument. An experienced electro-acoustic creator, Casserley frequently works with musicians ranging from Parker to American bassist Adam Linson. For his part Van Schouwburg has recorded with British guitarist John Russell and Italian saxophonist Gianni Mimmo.

With phaser-processed reverb and feedback often creating pedal-point percussion throughout, Van Schouwburg’s pharynx and oral cavity whistles, gurgles, retches and pauses appear alternately animal, human, mechanical or environmental. During the course of a single improv his glottis can approximate, Donald Duck-like quacks, comb-and-tissue paper strains, the soundtrack to constipation, a small child’s whimpers, unlimited yawning and garbled nonsense syllables. Similarly Casserley’s flanged oscillations can inflate to a solid drone or shrivel to the width of an aural nanosecond during the same period.

To get some idea of this, compare the title track and “Emergent Streams”. On the latter the reference would be to air streams rather than the watery ones, as the vocalist defines himself with harsh reflux and vibrating parlando. Feminized whispers echo as if they’re being reverberated in a spacious tunnel; during other periods it appears that an enfeebled elder is gutturally imparting secret wisdom to himself. Meantime Casserley’s real-time processing not only evokes blurry, metallic-sounding reverberations, but also at times sounds as if the electronics are dialoguing with Van Schouwburg’s throat motions. “Mouth Wind:” on the other hand is made up of a mélange of gurgles and heaves from the vocalist that masks a further collection of nonsense syllables. As Van Schouwburg tries on a variety of glottal extensions for size, ranging from this-side-of-insanity laughs, to off-key operatic-styled intonation, the granular backing is laced with flanged impulses and what sounds like the crackle of twisted aluminum foil.

Picking up on the Oriental reference cited in one quotation on Mouth Wind, Tea Opera is dedicated to China’s ancient tea culture and the myths that surround it. With the same amount of words used in this CD as the other – that is none – Namchylak has to suggest the intricacies and mythical qualities of the beverage with her voice. This she does remarkably, at time rolling bel-canto syllables around in her mouth as if they are life-affirming liquids, while Dee backs her with an undertow of dial-twisting buzzes and squeals.

Unlike Casserley and Van Schouwburg, Namchylak’s and Dee’s extruded textures are categorically separate. She may repeat phrases, yodel, gurgle or throat growl, but electronic and human tones are never confused. At the same time Dee’s processing is versatile enough so that his sequences touch on more than echoing flanges or signal-processed patches. Individual tracks show him adopting his instrument(s) to the spatial qualities of the room; others are out-and-out electronic experiments; and still others relate to other concepts. For instance the tough, fungible beats on “First Story could be linked to the sound of an army’s marching feet.

Moreover, at points, such as on “Eighth Story” computer buzzes are in your-face as the oscillating drones are met by shamanistic cries and low-pitched pants from the vocalist. Elsewhere Namchylak’s response is rhythmic spits as her initial hushed warbling challenge Dee creating what appear to be noises from a thunder sheet, radio-dialing signals and turntable scratching.

More generic to the mood the two try to reflect are tracks such as “Second Story” and “Fifth Story”. On both the non-vocal allusions are to traditional Chinese instruments. As Namchylak vocalizes the dissonant approximation of what may have been heard in the Imperial Court before 1900, the staccato grinds and strokes from Dee suggest the tones of the yangqin or hammered dulcimer. Pitches on “Fifth Story” may strike even closer to home for the vocalist, since mid-way through Dee’s signal-processed whistles and stentorian grunts combine into a roar not unlike that produced by the radung or elongated Tibetan brass horn. Lyrical soprano cries and guttural growls alternate from Namchylak’s throat as the vocalist makes her contribution to the dense wall-of-sound. Yangqin-like thumps and plinks subsequently created by electronics confirm both the 21st century modernity and timeless traditionalism of the track – and the disc.

Putting aside the obvious, the divide between these duo CDs isn’t Orientalized verses Europeanized improvising. Instead it’s a profound variance in conception and interpretation. That’s what makes both of them interesting.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Mouth: 1. Aque Nascote 2. Mouth “G” 3. Vent dans la Forêt 4. Viento a traves lo Trigo 5. Bouche “P” 6. Emergent Streams 7. Mond “M” 8. Vietor v doline 9. Betep no rophomy xpeõty 10. Száj “R” 11. Mouth Wind

Personnel: Mouth: Lawrence Casserley (signal processing instrument) and Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg (voice)

Track Listing: Tea: 1. First Story 2. Second Story 3. Third Story 4. Fourth Story 5. Fifth Story 6. Sixth Story 7. Seventh Story 8. Eight Story 9. Ninth Story.

Personnel: Tea: Dickson Dee (live electronics) and Sainkho Namchylak (voice)