Audrey Chen – Runt Vigor

Posted: 24 October 2018 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , ,

Karl Records – 21st September 2018

James Wells

There’s nothing like an intriguing title, or one which ignites the imagination to generate interest in an album – or maybe it’s just me. And so the curious selection of the pairing of ‘runt’ with ‘vigor’ piqued my interest: the idea and image of a runt, smaller and weaker than nature intended, flailing feebly but energetically… Paired with the collage cover art, it all points toward something far-out – and I’m not mistaken or misled.

Now, I’m more accustomed and adjusted to music from the furthest, most extreme fringes, avant-gardism that redefines bizarre, inexplicable, outré. Chen is so outré that she’s bypassed me for all of 30 years, which includes a prodigious solo career punctuated by myriad collaborations that accounts for the last 15.

While much of her output is centred around cello, voice, and analogue electronics, vocal explorations have been at the heart of her most recent works including this four-track offering, which contains forty minutes of gulps, clicks, gargles and hums all emanating from the mouth and throat. Ululations and stuttering glottal stops create the very fabric of the compositions and occupy the foreground, along with asthmatic, gasping breaths, atonal, meandering whistles, and strangulation sounds.

While it’s more overtly ‘musical’ than Mike Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice which stands by way of a relatively obvious comparison, it’s not less disturbing or strange, and it’s impossible to distinguish the origins of all of the sounds here; the whispering hums, drones and wavering gusts of wind are, I would assume, as likely to originate from the artist’s body as from an instrument. It’s the way in which everything is rendered obscure, the voice twisted, pushed, pulled, distorted and disfigured beyond all recognition from the conventional utterances of speech, song, or even flatulence, which is so awestriking.

You may hear albums which share the same sonic territory, but I’d wager none will have been created in the same way.

AA

Audrey Chan

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