[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 7: Voices Special

I made a two hour mix for NTS Radio of songs with vocals that are significant to me. I had originally set out to focus on experimental vocals, but I realized that so much of what might sound experimental to western ears—Tibetan chant, Inuit throat singing, Chinese folk—is deeply traditional, not experimental at all. Instead, I approached this as two hours of vocal milestones, be they from technical, stylistic, or emotive standpoints. It’s not possible to make a two hour comprehensive survey of strong vocal traditions, nor of the most important singers, though there are quite a few of both categories in here. Putting this together was hard, and while I could easily have spent years digging and rethinking, I set a month time limit to ensure that I would finish it at all.

As I was making this I also thought a lot about how Björk framed her almost entirely vocal record Medúlla as a response to September 11th–both the event itself and the subsequent wave of patriotism and xenophobia that she experienced as a foreigner living in New York. Making an all-vocal album was, for her, a coping mechanism and a means of trying to reconnect with what it means to be a human.

Lastly, a note that this isn’t as listenable or poppy as the mixes that I typically make, though I did try to arc it in a way that feels good. I’m not really sure what its ideal listening environment is–it probably involves headphones–so I hope that you enjoy it all the same! If you’d like an mp3 version you can download it here. Thank you for listening 💜

Tracklisting:
1. The Impressions – For Your Precious Love
2. Meredith Monk – Strand (Gathering)
3. Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Genesis (abridged)
4. Bessie Griffin & The Gospel Pearls – Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
5. Philippine Madrigal Singers – Pamugun (comp. Francisco Feliciano)
6. Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes – Jusqu’à Ce Que La Force De T’aimer Me Manque (excerpt)
7. Emma Kirkby & Gothic Voices – O Euchari (comp. Hildegard von Bingen)
8. Björk – Pleasure Is All Mine
9. The Ronettes – Baby I Love You (Isolated Vocals) (excerpt)
10. David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir – Arc Descents
11. Unknown Artists – Sumi Yeinyo (Hani Crying Song) (Southern China)
12. The Beach Boys – Surfer Girl (Alternate Version)
13. John Jacob Niles – Go ‘Way From My Window
14. The Tallis Scholars – Spem In Alium, Motet for 40 Voices (comp. Thomas Tallis)
15. Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Doll’s Polyphony
16. Young Thug – All Over
17. Ghédalia Tazartès – Une Voix S’en Va
18. Yma Sumac – Taita Inty (Virgin Of The Sun God)
19. Arthur Miles – Lonely Cowboy, Pt. 2
20. Angkanang Kunchai With Ubon-Pattana Band – Isan Lam Plearn (excerpt)
21. The Hilliard Ensemble – Viderunt Omnes (comp. Pérotin)
22. Ustad Ghulam Ali & Asha Bhosle – Salona Sa Sajan Hai Aur Main Hoon
23. Patti Page – Confess (excerpt)
24. Monks of Gyütö Tantric College – Sangwa Düpa (excerpt)
25. Amália Rodrigues – Gaivota (excerpt)
26. Unknown Artist – Akazehe Par Une Jeune Fille (Burundi)
27. Anna Homler & Steve Moshier – Sirens (excerpt)
28. Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Stani Mi, Maytcho (Get Up, My Daughter)
29. David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir – Rainbow Voice
30. Lucy Amarualik & Mary Sivuarapik – Song Of A Cooking Seal Flipper
31. Dr. Octagon – Halfsharkalligatorhalfman
32. Judy Henske & Jerry Yester – Rapture (excerpt)
33. The Hilliard Ensemble – Sabbato Sancto – Responsorium 5 (comp. Carlo Gesualdo)
34. Linda Jones – Your Precious Love (excerpt)

The Hilliard Ensemble – Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae, 1991

Another expert overview of a favorite composer’s work from the venerated Hilliard Ensemble. Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) was an Italian prince, count, and renaissance composer, who is mostly known for his madrigals, particularly those that disregarded the tonal conventions of the time and explored extreme chromatic progressions and unprepared changes of harmony, i.e. changes without a harmonic bridge. This was arguably without precedent, and wasn’t really seen again until late 19th century impressionism. The music is notoriously difficult to perform live, with careening harmonies making it particularly easy to veer off-key. In spite of the daredevil compositions, the songs are stunningly beautiful, if a bit nervewracking. Stravinsky was a big fan. Aldous Huxley, who once listened to Gesualdo while under the influence of mescaline, wrote the liner notes for a 1956 LP of Gesualdo’s work. Herzog made a pseudo-documentary about him called Death for Five Voices.

Perhaps somewhat relatedly, Gesualdo was also known to exhibit characteristics of serious mental illness, was a repeat murderer, and a masochist, leading some to suspect demonic possession. After the murders, the story goes that he was so paranoid that he went on a tree-cutting rampage around his castle so as to be better able to see potential threats from far away. It’s also believed that he may have ordered his own death. He’s become a vampire-esque figure of fascination for many (I can’t help but think of Gilles de Rais), an interest that seems a bit fraught to me–but I can’t argue with the music. Enjoy!

buy / download: disc 1, disc 2

The Tallis Scholars – Spem In Alium, 1985

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) is considered by many to be one of the most important English composers ever to have lived, and is definitively one of the most important composers of early choral music. His crowning achievement, “Spem In Alium,” is a ten minute long 40-part motet that borders on psychedelic: ceaselessly shifting, simultaneously hyper-precise yet almost shapeless. From Wikipedia:

The motet is laid out for eight choirs of five voices. It’s most likely that Tallis intended his singers to stand in a horseshoe shape. Beginning with a single voice from the first choir, other voices join in imitation, each in turn falling silent as the music moves around the eight choirs. All forty voices enter simultaneously for a few bars, and then the pattern of the opening is reversed with the music passing from choir eight to choir one. There is another brief full section, after which the choirs sing in antiphonal pairs, throwing the sound across the space between them. Finally all voices join for the culmination of the work. Though composed in imitative style and occasionally homophonic, its individual vocal lines act quite freely within its elegant harmonic framework, allowing for a large number of individual musical ideas to be sung during its ten- to twelve-minute performance time. The work is a study in contrasts: the individual voices sing and are silent in turns, sometimes alone, sometimes in choirs, sometimes calling and answering, sometimes all together, so that, far from being a monotonous mess, the work is continually presenting new ideas.

I’ve been listening to this album for ten years and it’s still disorientingly beautiful. The other works in this collection are gorgeous in their own right, with “Sancte Deus” and “Miserere Nostri” being personal favorites. Not included are his “Lamentations of Jeremiah,” cited as his other masterwork; I’m also a chump for “If ye love me“…there are plenty of other compilations worth seeking out. Happy December, but also, listen to this all year round.

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