Nick Hallett—singer, composer, and downtown impresario—creates a four-part series, as part of New Museum’s newly launched RE:NEW RE:PLAY Performance Residency Series, at the Museum’s theater connecting the human voice to multimedia ritual.
As Part Three of “Voice & Light Systems,” Hallett premiered 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 was a concert version of music then being developed for a new opera created by Hallett and the video and performance artist Shana Moulton, Whispering Pines 10, premiered at The Kitchen in Spring 2010. Folk song forms such as rounds and hockets were 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 floated throughout the space.
In collaboration with a rotating cast of performers and artists, Hallett presented original music and performance alongside new interpretations of celebrated vocal works by Meredith Monk and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The singing voice was 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 was 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” revisited 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 began to develop new work for contemporary contemplation, with the voice—the most basic instrument of artistic expression—at its core.