1. Segmenti due by Demetrio Stratos. From Metrodora, 1976, Cramps Records.
Stratos was the vocalist for Italian band Area from 1972 until his untimely death in 1979 at the age of 34. In addition to being a simply great singer with an enormous range, Stratos studied various disciplines related to music, the voice, and language. He was able to produce some truly unusual sounds with his voice, many of which were documented and are now available for the public to glimpse through the 2009 documentary, La voce Stratos. Here's a youtube clip showing him in action in a variety of settings:
2. Si Veriash La Rana by Charming Hostess. From Sarajevo Blues, 2004, Tzadik.
Charming Hostess has been part of the West Coast avantgarde scene for a long time. I remember first hearing of them in the late 90s, when Idiot Flesh was essentially their backing band for the album Eat.
Primary composer and bandleader Jewlia Eisenberg has continued to take the Charming Hostess project in a number of interesting directions. The recent Bowls Project release, part of a multimedia installation, is a great album that touches on a variety of musical approaches. This track, though, comes from 2004's Sarajevo Blues release, and really highlights the Hostess' ability to incorporate Bulgarian vocal harmonies and unique ornamentation...or as Eisenberg puts it in her liner notes, "Forced gender compliance for Bulgarian Jewish girls."
3. The Jump by Bobby McFerrin. From The Voice, 1984, Elektra Musician.
Almost everyone is familiar with Bobby McFerrin for his surprise 80s hit with "Don't Worry, Be Happy." The reality is that he was a vastly accomplished vocal performer and musical mind before that, and he has continued to write music that is uplifiting and technically stunning. I chose this track because I particularly admire his ability to make the kinds of giant intervalic leaps that he makes constantly in this song, but I can't really think of anything McFerrin has recording that I don't find both musically interesting and emotionally nourishing.
4. Where Is The Line by Björk. From Medúlla, 2004, Polydor.
As a "pop" artist with a long career of her own, and the Sugarcubes before that, Bjork has managed to continue making music that challenges her audience. 2004's Medulla album, a recording made entirely of voice-generated sounds, is probably the most extreme example of that. However, the record isn't compositionally or orchestrationally thin for the decision--instead, Bjork works with a variety of choral groups and individuals with unusual voice talents to make the music as varied and rich as most records with additional instrumentation. On this track, the percussion track is provided by Rahzel, lead melody vocals come from Bjork and Mike Patton (whose experiemental vocal work we'll cover below), and additional harmonic pads and accents are covered by the 22-voice Icelandic Choir. A stunning recording, and there's a freaky video for the song, too:
5. Pulse by Zubi Zuva. From Jehovah, 1996, Tzadik.
Zubi Zuva is a vocal trio featuring Tatsuya Yoshida of Ruins and Koenjihyakkei fame. It's a playful project, and it's obviously intended to be mostly a fun/funny experience, but they do take some interesting musical chances in that space between singing and speaking that are worth a listen.
6. Voice by Maja Ratkje. From Voice, 2002, Rune Grammofon.
Ratkje is a really interesting composer and singer from Norway. I've heard and enjoyed some of her work with the improv group Spunk, but I especially like her "Voice" album. It's a great listening experience that manages to balance the beautiful and the bizarre. You get a sense of her compositional skills making careful and deliberate use of her vocal technique to make this album work.
7. Song Of Schopsko by The Bulgarian State Radio And Television Female Vocal Choir. From Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, 1986, 4AD.
The Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares CD series is probably responsible for most of Americans' familiarity with the Bulgarian vocal style, which includes odd, close-stacked harmonies with the occasional dissonance for emphasis, and very unusual ornamentation to melodies, which I've heard extended into other instrumental performances from the region, too (the Norweigan band Farmers Market is a great place to hear these ornaments on horns, accordions, and guitars).
8. Inconsolable Widows In Search Of Distraction by Mike Patton. From Adult Themes For Voice, 1996, Tzadik.
Mike Patton is probably best known for his work as vocalist in Faith No More and Mr. Bungle in the 90s, but he's a very busy man who co-founded Ipecac Records, composes for and plays in a variety of other bands and projects, and continues to surprise with every new recording. This track, and another short track later in this playlist, are part of a small series of voice-based recordings that were made to 4-track cassettes in various hotel rooms on tour. The limitation of the medium, however, didn't hold Patton back on tracks such as this one, where he's obviously bounced tracks of ululation sounds back and forth to create a massive throng of "inconsolable widows." Perhaps even more fun listening to this album is thinking about what the folks in adjoining hotel rooms might have been feeling while these recordings were made!
In addition to his other prodigious talents as a conventional vocalist and composer, he might be the best screamer in the business. Check out this performance as part of Zorn's Moonchild ensemble:
9. Burst by Tagaq. From Auk/Blood, 2008, Jericho Beach Music.
To tie into Patton above, his Ipecac label has also issued this recording. I first heard of Tagaq when she performed on Bjork's Medulla album, also mentioned above. There is a brief glimpse of Tagaq in the recording studio featured in Bjork's DVD about the making of Medulla, and I was really impressed with how much of herself she gets into while performing/recording. Her whole album is a very original take on combining "art music" avant-garde techniques with traditional Inuit throat singing. And yet the whole of the work remains appealing to people outside of both of those traditions, with a sort of primal appeal. Great stuff.
10. Stimmung: Model 11 by Paul Hillier & Theatre of Voices. From Stockhausen: Stimmung, 2007, Harmonia Mundi.
This is taken from the middle of a Stockhausen vocal piece I really enjoy. It's hard to give a quick summary of what's happening in long-form pieces like this, but basically drones are intoned, repeated, and modified over time, and names of deities are also intoned. The piece functions through gradual change/synthesis. For the purposes of this set of music, I liked the sounds of the gradually-shifting phonetic segments, which start to sound really bizarre when they're repeated and shifted within the ensemble.
11. Mahoko by Adachi Tomomi Royal Chorus. From Yo, 2003, Tzadik.
Yet another weird vocal release from Tzadik, Tomomi's "Royal Chorus" is a project of his intended to combine the work of professional and non-professional musicians. Generally, the pieces are scored for 6-8 vocalists and can have a variety of notational approaches (rhythm defined but no pitch definition, for example). These pieces tend toward musical humor in spots, but in others they remind me of that same transcendent approach to combining singing and speaking sounds heard in the Zubi Zuva record.
12. La Molina by Yma Sumac. From The Ultimate Yma Sumac Collection, 2003, The Right Stuff.
This is by far the most "normal" recording of this bunch, but Yma Sumac's voice absolutely puts her at the level of the other folks in this playlist. Sumac had an enormous range, incredible control, and at times incorporated native vocal techniques and emulation of animals, etc into her performances, making her an interesting fit--and proving that even exotica and the avant-garde can exist in perfect harmony.
13. Wuxiapian Fantastique by Mike Patton. From Adult Themes For Voice, 1996, Tzadik.
We covered Patton a bit above...this track is a 17 second onslaught of voice overdubs placed close to and over each other. This like this are really fun for me when I think about how much work can go into such a short recording, but the audio result is really fun.
14. Karolinka by Urszula Dudziak. From Malowany Ptak, 1997, Polonio.
In a way, Dudziak can be compared to Bobby McFerrin: both are very accomplished musicians with jazz/improv leanings, and both are better known as one hit wonders (hers was "Papaya" in the 70s) than for their long, complex, and rich careers. Other than some jazz-meets-disco experiments, most of Dudziak's music tends to be fairly loose improv jazz stuff using all kinds of vocal approaches. On that music, I hear a bit of a Phil Minton influence. On her 1997 Malowany Park album, though, voice takes center stage in overdubbed pieces that often have grooves I'd associate with Bobby McFerrin. She uses some effects on the record, notably octaver effects to drop her voice into an appropriate range for making vocal "basslines," but overall the music is well-arranged voice-songs that deserve a wider audience.
15. Prelude To Biocosmo Pt. Two by Boris Savoldelli & Elliott Sharp. From Protoplasmic, 2009, Moonjune Records.
I've been looking for Savoldelli's solo voice album for a while, but so far I haven't found it (no US distro, argh). In the meantime, here's a track from his duet album with NYC stalwart Elliot Sharp playing guitar. This music is possibly the most abstract and abrasive of this playlist, but still well-considered and made of sensitive interplay between the musicians. Much of Savoldelli's live approach is based on a kind of "live overdub" concept using loop pedals and singing over them layer after layer. While technically interesting, I've heard a lot of guitarists play loop-based music in a similar fashion, and I must admit I'm more entertained by the moments when he's interacting with Sharp moment to moment, with no loop-building in the background. That said, Sharp is a layer-building live improvisor himself, so you never get away from that kind of technique for long on this record.
16. What white horse by André Goudbeek Quartet& Phil Minton. From As it happened, 1999, WIMpro.
I'm most fond of Phil Minton's work with Bob Ostertag's ensembles (by the way, you can learn about Ostertag's music and listen to any of it you'd like for free at his website), but I thought it might be fun to include this relatively "normal" track that features the Minton brand of singing with his arsenal of odd sounds (grunts, mouth sounds, etc) over a fairly conservative Goudbeek Quartet arrangement. While I can't say that I'm a fan of a lot of Minton's work directly, he has influenced a large number of other vocalists and composers over his long career. Minton's work shows many kinds of unorthodox sounds can be used to great effect if you're committed and sing like you mean it.
Here's a bit of Phil's take on the English folksong idiom to take us out: