Nick Hallett—singer, composer, and downtown impresario—creates a four-part series at the New Museum theater connecting the human voice to multimedia ritual.
Tonight Hallett premieres a new composition, Whispering Exercises, for women’s voices (Katie Eastburn, Rachel Henry Rachel Mason, Daisy Press), harp (Shelley Burgon), and electronic pulsations generated from customized software created by Ray Sweeten, with sound design by Zach Layton. This is a concert version of music currently being developed for a new opera created by Hallett and the video and performance artist Shana Moulton, Whispering Pines 10, to premiere at The Kitchen in Spring 2010. Folk song forms such as rounds and hockets are layered over electronic arpeggiations, in addition to acoustic phenomena such as Shepard Tones (a series of rising pitches which elicits feelings of weightlessness), while lumia and oscillographics float throughout the space.
In collaboration with a rotating cast of performers and artists, Hallett presents original music and performance alongside new interpretations of celebrated vocal works by Meredith Monk and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The singing voice is seen here in its rawest state, stripped of its language-based sensibilities, and more as a flexible instrument of sound, capable of producing protosemantic, acoustic phenomena. As such, concepts of drone, repetition, and improvisation prevail over the tropes of traditional song. Each evening is staged using pure light, illuminated objects, and projection methods derived from structuralist film and the psychedelic lightshow to create a live, interdisciplinary synthesis of sound and image. Taking from John Cage’s maxim that “art should not be different than life, but an action within life,” Voice & Light Systems revisits the Zen-Buddhism-inspired methodologies popular among Western artists during the 1960s and ’70s as ritual practices in and of themselves, envisioning their scores much as sacred texts in a pre-literary culture, to be rendered as expressions of devout “art consciousness.” With this experimental tradition as a starting point, Hallett begins to develop new work for contemporary contemplation, with the voice—the most basic instrument of artistic expression—at its core.