Something You Do With Your Ears

I’ve wanted to write something about this piece for a while now: Concubia Nocte by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi.

I first heard it on the CBC as I was going to bed.  I had just finished my nightly rituals and was setting my alarm, clicking it past the radio option to the alarm-radio option, and happened to end up on the CBC feed which was broadcasting their contractually-obligated-fifteen-minutes-of-written-down-music-by-people-who-aren’t-dead commonly referred to as, The Signal. I heard enough of the preamble to pick out that the title of the piece was Concubia Nocte and that it was for live electronics and a solo singer.  The singer in this case was Rosemarie van der Hooft who trained in early music but has been blazing a trail into the bowels of contemporary music.  Her voice was a big reason that the piece worked for me.  I know the opera camp will start lecturing me on how this particular style of singing is a minefield of tension and a regular rest stop on the highway to vocal oblivion but I.  Just.  Love.  It.  I realize the idea is that the freely vibrating voice commonly associated with opera is vibrating because it has less tension.  But that doesn’t mean it’s my ideal quality.  I love the sound of pure pitch with nothing but the most hesitant exit chuckle of a vibrato to sweeten the tone.  It’s almost an aroma.  Pure sex for the nostrils.  Except for your ears.

So, to digress, I was big into the voice but the piece itself is the real star.  It clocks in at a flippant radio-defying 20 minutes and is dedicated to the late Luciano Berio.  An approximate translation of the title seems to be something along the lines of, “The First Sleep Of Night”.  The piece is full of wide textures punctured by prickling sub-surface effects that evoke the huge depths hinted at in the title with breathtaking effectiveness.  Without a score in hand, I’m unable to post excerpts.  One of the gnarliest effects was having a section featuring a series of rapid lines sung by the soloist looped in order to build a sort of vapor of sound.  When the consonants pop out of the cloud, the tandem effect is that of a dark cloud crackling with energy.

I suppose the most extra-musical aspect of the piece that excited me (And the increasing frequency at which this comes up makes me think I’m at the cusp of learning something important about myself, life, an everything else) was the economy of it.  We have a huge piece of music (20 minutes of huge to be precise) that is about a huge theme that we all have in common (It doesn’t get much more penultimate than death now does it?) set for the most modest of resources (Some lady with a laptop computer).  Now compare that with THIS. It’s practically from another planet.

I’ve uploaded an mp3 I ripped from the podcast.  Enjoy!

Concubia Nocte, by Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi

Recording posted with permission of the composer.

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