Last night I took an opportunity to go and see some avant-garde vocal-led theatre at Kings Place, a bang up-to-date performance space built at the height of the Noughties boom and invariably catering for similarly up to the minute acts. The event - Vocal Crossings II - was performed by OUT HEAR, a collective unique to the evening of various vocal artists performing on their own and, in the second half, corporately. As the evening's curator Mikhail Karikis told us in the programme, ... this event includes practitioners who employ the voice in fine art practice, dance or acting.
The peremptory moments prior to performance in both halves of the concert were given a soundtrack by the club-owning DJ Gabriel Prokofiev. Karikis was first to perform giving two pieces (Intro & Cerebus) showcasing a range of vocal effects in addition to an authentic falsett-baritone mixed vocal range - as well as the first of a number of peculiar outfits. From the outset it was clear that Karikis' performance has a strong narrative spine to it. Whether the nature of the story was something apparent to the audience, or even something he intended to share is moot and I'll come back to it.
Next were Juice, a female trio weaving spare, febrile close harmony and vocal effects. This is where my imagination was arrested for the first time in the evening as the group restricted themselves to a small palette of sounds, developed and explored within the song arrangments (Ojo by performer Kerry Andrew and Go To Sleep). The unforced, aspirant exchanges that lay somewhere between zephyr and snoring in the latter gospel arrangement were unexpectedly erotic.
E.laine (a performer who, as far as I can see, is no relation of Will.i.am) was the second soloist of the first half with a dramatically virtuosic performance of the standard Solitude and an improvisation based on sale shopping. Like Karikis, E.laine clearly had a narrative in mind with her performance of the Ellington song - unlike Karikis this was communicated more clearly and consistently, a mixture of despair and frustration at loneliness - and what seemed to be its imposition on the character behind her performance bulging behind the surface of her vocalising.
The vocal monopoly of the programme got a rest with two harpsichord works played by Jane Chapman. Roderick Watkins' After Scarlatti (2009) is a pointless, meandering re-appropriation of the named composer's work and style instantly shown up by the focused, if ultimately trite Continuum (1968) by Ligeti.
Chapman was then joined on stage by Karikis for a duet, Contact, to close the first half. This meant more of the same vocalising as for Cerebus accompanied with the prepared harpsichord, every surface of which Chapman played with a timp hammer (I was pleased to discover that I found this fairly effective, given how horribly contrived it seemed at first). More interesting than the music was the staging of the performance: Karikis' second costume change of the evening rendered him as if with bunny ears, a profile thrown onto the stage in strong silhouette. The conflagration of this and an earlier Kabuki-type arrangement brought to mind the rabbit/burlesque image-sump of film director David Lynch's subconscious. As I suggested before, Karikis' narrative seemed present but obscure (certainly less definable than that of E.laine) and I was not surprised to discover, talking to a performer afterwards, that Karikis bases his performances on a considerable backstory. Invariably I struggle to see the point of this, in much the same way as I struggle to see the point of the acting technique know as Method - whilst there is no doubt it provides the performer with conviction, I tend to find myself shortchanged in the audience (in terms of recognisable content). However, given the indication that Karikis may be using his personal narrative in a Lynchian fashion - not to present content but to open possibilities of interpretation - allowed me to absorb the work without negativity.
The concert's second half was an ensemble work devised by Karikis wound on the armature of a reading of the UN's Declaration of Human Rights. The theatre was, this time, irredeemably contrived and the vocalising (with viola played by Scratch The Surface's Conall Gleeson) anonymous. I thoroughly enjoyed the reading of the Declaration by Monica Ross and, though startling, I took away some impression of Maurice Casey's contorted ballet centrepiece.