Artist: Serhio Efremis & Elli Q
Release Date: 2014 June 10
Genre: Experimental Improv
License: CC BY-NC-ND
Serhio Efremis & Elli Q bring us their inspired vocal improv challenge on Vocalises. Electronic music soundscapes are interwoven with vocal improvisations in a widely varied sonic excursion. This is the kind of work that begs having questions asked of it. Where is the line between the electronic soundscapes and vocals? Do the vocals really add a necessary element to the music?
Inspired Vocal Improv Challenge
I have a long running fascination with vocal improvisation stemming from many years of listening to classic jazz recordings. I also have a particular interest in electronic manipulations of vocals stemming from some of the experimental first works done with a E-mu Emulator (in particular, Todd Rundgren’s A Capella album). So, when it comes to a release such as Vocalises, I am a fair bit more critical than I might be about other types of works.
Vocalises is composed of fifteen short tracks, the longest track is just over two and a half minutes in length. Most of the tracks are titled ‘Vocalises’ followed by a number, although there are two ‘Untitled’ tracks, ‘Improvistaion For Kalimba’ and ‘Dedication for…’ (both of which do not have a vocal track).
Miniature compositions are a tricky area for composers to work. Masters of this form, such as Edvard Grieg and Erik Satie (Gymnopédies in particular), were very mindful of the structures of the compositions. While many of the pieces could at times be seen as exercises (especially in the case of Grieg who was known to have arranged his compositions as books which he used for piano lessons), there is very careful and meaningful attention to structure and form. This allowed each of the compositions to stand on its own as a song.
In more experimental works, such as the pieces on Vocalises, the form and structure of the composition is more open, more invented than strict. The danger in trying to write miniature pieces in this manner is that they can come across sounding incomplete. More like the short thematic pieces used for the soundtrack to a TV show or movie, than as full-blown compositions.
And that is a major problem for this work. The experimental nature of the compositions focuses more on the texture and rhythm of the pieces and fails to allow space for thematic development.
This poses issues for the vocal aspects of these works. While a vocalist can improvise melodic or rhythmic lines that fit within the structure of a composition, without the space to develop. While in some cases this would be an appropriate outcome for this type of recording, the very title of this release leads us to believe that the vocal nature of the work is the most important element.
However, when competing against complex textures, the vocals on this work find little more than supplementary space to the overall composition. This hardly leaves the vocals being the primary driving force of the work. The fact that two of the compositions (as mentioned previously) don’t feature vocals at all hints at the secondary nature of the vocals on this release.
This work does have some positive points. The use of texture and rhythm are exceptional, and one might argue quite progressive in their own right. The technical aspects of the recording and production of this work are excellent. Unfortunately, this is a disappointing release.
I had very high expectations when I read the “…explore voice, sound, their interactions and silence…” description, which are some of my favorite types of works. Unfortunately, what I found in this release is a series of short compositions that would make excellent stubs for a TV show or movie soundtrack, but lacked the depth of composition form and structure needed to sustain vocal improvisations. As such the vocal portions of this work become more supplementary than the focal point of the compositions as we are lead to believe by the ‘Vocalise’ titles of many of the compositions.
Sethio Efremis, Elli Q and Vasilieva Natalia answered to an inspired vocal improv challenge. That by itself is a difficult task to accomplish, and is credit worthy for this release. Unfortunately the work overall feels like a collection of disjointed works that need focus to feel like a single unified work.