The Whore of Babylon

imgres-4And I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” Try saying that without any vowels, at least an octave above your normal speaking voice, as fast as possible. At sight. In a tiny recording booth with the composer 3 inches from your face with pickup microphones in her ears.

Working with composer Line Tjornhoj is always an unpredictable experience. For it to work it’s imperative to be open minded, non-judgmental and prepared to travel way out of the comfort zone. This recording session is a continuation of a process started a year ago in Århus for a project called Split (see blog), a one-woman “monodramatic opera” for voice, cello, live electronics and video by outrageously talented photographic artist Jurgen Diemer, relating to the experiences of the women of the Bosnian war.

imgres_0-nggid03139-ngg0dyn-320x240x100-00f0w010c010r110f110r010t010During that unbelievably intense initial week of creative exploration at the Women’s Museum in Århus, I was wrapped in clingfilm, gave vocal improvisations on the emotional state of rape victims to attentive museum visitors, played the cello in the middle of the town’s ice rink in sub zero temperatures, was filmed having rose petals thrown at my naked self  plus cello and got shouted at by the museum café’s angry lesbian proprietress for taking a jug of coffee into the sacred Women’s Meeting Room. I drew the line (…) only at Line’s insistent invitation to join her “Winter Bading”, a traditionally northern Danish practice involving being scorched for an hour in a sauna, then jumping into the frozen sea. As it was snowing that week, I chickened out. Something tells me I’m not going to get away with it indefinitely.

The fabulous new concert hall in the Århaus Royal Academy of Music

Our sound engineer at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Aarhus was the extraordinarily gifted Henrik Winther Hansen, who, in between a packed schedule as acoustician lecturer at the Academy, recording engineer and highly sophisticated sound technician, is developing a radical new form of recording involving microphones placed at ear distance, thus simulating the concert hall experience. This could potentially revolutionize the experience of listening to concerts around the world online.

His skills and vastly expensive microphones were ideal for Line’s project, allowing highest definition detail recording of the extended cello techniques and strange vocal noises required for the piece. Whilst my own cello was let off the hook, I spent a happy hour completely covering her 6 yr old son’s baby cello with rosin, bowing every conceivable bit of its anatomy and winding bits of metal around slackened strings for extra weirdness. Not exactly Haydn cello concerto fodder.

Lee Bontecou’s “Untitled” deconstructed cello. (1966 Chicago Contemporary Art Museum)

To prepare for the session I’d  put myself and my unfortunate neighbours through an immersion week in the technique of subharmonics, a process involving the use of extra bow pressure at certain node points producing pitches an octave or 2 octaves below the fundamental. When it works, it’s an astonishing noise. When it doesn’t – which is about 70% of the time at the time of writing – it sounds like an angry cow being pulled backwards through a gorse bush.

To speed up the learning curve, I gathered top tips from respective extended-technical string virtuosi violinist David Alberman (“send me the video”) and cellist Anton Lukoszevieze (“use your fist”). Well actually, they told me lots of helpful stuff perhaps too geeky for this page. But do ask if interested.

Alternatively, simply sit back and immerse yourself in the this illuminating 1 minute intro to the seductive world of string harmonics.

(Guillaume Azoulay’s strung up cellist. I love this drawing…)

Moving away from our starting point in the Baltic conflict, we’ve retitled the piece Tomorrow’s Child to be premiered at the 2012 Wundergrund Festival. In the meantime, we’ll use some of these recordings for another project, Er Verden Sand, happening at the end of my DIVA residence in May and June  in Aarlborg and Vordingborg alongside video installations by artist Signe Klejs, with whom I’m teaming up to make a film of a song of mine about a drugged up philosophising prostitute in a brothel.

But more of that later.