Simon Cummings, 5:4, 10 septembre 2017

Also out on empreintes DIGITALes is Annette Vande Gorne’s Yawar Fiesta, a work she describes as a ‘spatialised electroacoustic opera’. Released as a Blu-Ray audio disc, containing both surround and stereo mixes (including binaural), this 87-minute work — dedicated to one of the masters of acousmatic music, Francis Dhomont — is to all intents and purposes created entirely from vocal sounds. These have their origin in the libretto, written by Werner Lambersy, which “takes the incantatory and ritualistic form of an ancient Greek tragedy”. The text is used more as the basis for textural and/or spacial invention rather than for the strict and clear transmission of its content. Tangible words and vocalisations regularly emerge though, and perhaps the key defining feature of Yawar Fiesta is its dramatic, fantastical interplay of both material nature and perspective, alternating between granular, cloud-like, noisy formations (often positioned in the background or periphery) and solemn declarations and intoned chanting, seemingly by a vast, intimately close chorus of voices.

Considering the relatively small palette of sounds and sound treatments that occupy the piece, it’s remarkable that Gorne holds one’s attention so entirely for such a long period of time. Its structural unpredictability is an important factor, as is the enormous range of vocal types and arrangements, encompassing singing, chanting, speaking, shouting, crying (even keening), crooning, throat- and overtone-singing, whispering and whistling, ranging from just a single voice to many, moving like quicksilver between pitch and noise, speech and song, consonance and dissonance as well as shifting proximities and registers as though subject to the detailed rubrics of some vast, inscrutable liturgy. Another vital factor, though, is the extent of its emotional immediacy. Anything ‘operatic’ needs to keep its emotions at or very near to the surface, and while its intent and direction often feel bafflingly alien, the vitality and passion at its core is unambiguous to the point of being almost painfully overt. Unlike most large-scale works, it’s difficult if not impossible to talk about ‘highlights’ and single out particular sections or passages. The entire piece is a highlight, each and every one of its convoluted contours a spell-binding gem that becomes lost (but not forgotten) in an increasing collection of such jewel-like moments and episodes that follow each other in a way that’s almost implausibly organic. In lesser hands one would be marvelling simply at the breadth of imagination and astonishing compositional technique being demonstrated. Yet for all its unknowns and unpredictability, its wild paroxysms of austerity and elation, Yawar Fiesta cuts to the quick, and one is left gasping at the integrity and above all the intense humanity of its musical language. Everything in it is transparent and real and honest and true.

Everything in it is transparent and real and honest and true.