Joan La Barbara

La Barbara: Shamansong

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La Barbara: Shamansong Review

by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

This is a beautiful CD of three elegant, subtle and evocative compositions by well-known experimental vocalist and composer La Barbara. The first selection, ShamanSong (1991, 1998), is a mysterious 25-minute concert suite from a soundtrack for Anima, a film concerning a woman who journeys to the desert seeking to enter "the world where magic happens" by performing certain rituals and labors. La Barbara recorded voice (sighs, whispers, lamentations, ululations, calls, cries echoed by the surroundings, lullabies and "vocal winds") and percussion sounds (ancient Balinese gamelan instruments, tar and dumbek hand drums, shakuhachi, music box tines, rainstick, and African rattles) on location, high in the rocky cliffs of Diablo Canyon, NM, with its "ravens and echoes, birds and thunder." Several of these sounds are also modified by computer. ROTHKO (1986) was especially designed for the Rothko Chapel. La Barbara wished to emulate painter Mark Rothko's layering techniques in sound "by recording many washes of voices all around a tonal center." Tapes of multiphonic and microtonal voice choirs and bowed pianos move through the space, each listener experiencing the piece in a different way. The mood is sombre, meditative and intense, with a pervasive constantly moving drone filling and reconfiguring itself in the space as a living presence. Calligraphy II/Shadows (1995) is for voice and Chinese wind, string and percussion instruments. The score attempts "to reflect the gestural qualities and physicality of calligraphy," with the "shadows" of the title refering "to the musical score as a shadow or reflection of the movements and gestures of both calligraphy and dance." La Barbara succeeds beautifully with an engaging piece built of gentle evocative gestures and mysterious vocalisms that seem to tell a private story.

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