Agnes Hvizdalek – Index

Posted: 15 May 2017 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Nakama Records – 27th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

You think of the human voice and you’ll probably immediately cast your mind to speech and singing. But the extremity of the range of the human voice is truly remarkable, and extends far, far beyond these limited parameters. Index sees Oslo-based Agnes Hvizdalek explore, over the course of forty-seven minutes – mastered as a single track – the potentials and possibilities of her vocal cords. The CD’s packaging offers nothing but a fingerprint by way of an explanation, but thankfully, the accompanying press release assists with the provision of context and framing the ‘pure vocal sounds that oscillate between fragility and levity, in the most well-shaped musical manner’ by explaining the way in which they’re ‘interwoven with, and set in contrast to the buzz of the city sounds and the building acoustics’. That city buzz is São Paulo, and the album was recorded at the bottom of a 60-metre-high chimney at the old factory “Casa das Caldeiras” in the heart of the city with the world’s largest helicopter fleet. As such, Index captures the correspondence between the individual and environment as well as exploring the limits of the individual themselves.

It perhaps goes without saying that this is about as far into avant-garde territory as it possible to get: a work of pure experimentation, of parameter-pushing and prioritising process over end product. That doesn’t mean that Hvizdalek’s concept is entirely original: Mike Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice (1996) stands as a bewildering document of one man’s immense vocal capabilities. It’s largely unlistenable, at least in anything more than small doses, but at least it’s broken into bite-sized chunks of sonic derangement. Hvizdalek makes no such concessions to accessibility, and while many of her vocal acrobatic are less extreme than Patton’s, Index is nevertheless a hugely challenging album, a morass of saliva and tongues and brain-bending bleating and blowing.

To describe the various sounds would be essentially pointless – not only dull, but abjectly failing to convey the actual experience of the album. So, Hvhizdalek hums and drones, wheezes and moans, ululates gutturally and breathes like a bellows. She squeaks and snarls and snarks and spits. But what’s remarkable is that while at times she sounds perfectly human and natural, oftentimes the sounds issuing forth from the speakers sound like no creature on earth. And yet the bewildering polytonal rasps and drones sound like no instrument known to wo/man either.

There’s no way in the world anyone is ever going to sit down and play this album for pleasure. I write as someone who’s actually spent the best part of an hour with these sounds rippling and bouncing from the speakers wired to my laptop wearing pyjamas and a bemused expression. A part of me feels obliged to give the album at least one more run-through, but the fact is, while I have absolute admiration for Hvizdalek’s artistic commitment and vision, I simply can’t face it, at least not now. This is absolutely no sleight on Hvizdalek’s work: Index is a true work of art. It’s a work to ponder, to reflect on and to sample when the mood takes. This may not be often, but in a world cluttered with sonic wallpaper, there’s a real need for an album like Index.

Agnes Hvizdalek – Index

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