As frightening as a forest conflagration yet as coolly technological as the Large Hadron Collider, Andrea Young’s EXO/ENDO seems perfectly pitched for this month of horror. It’s a multimedia descent into hell with a transcendental resolution—and, as the composer-performer explains on the morning after the U.S. presidential election, it’s also a tribute to inner strength, something we’re all going to have to call on during the months ahead.
“It is pretty dark,” the Armstrong, B.C.–born Young says, in a telephone interview from her Montreal home. “You know, it has a very overriding, dominant expression of a kind of extreme rawness, I would say—in my own performance, especially. But for me it is all about the individual’s voice kind of clawing its way out—that internal fire we have, being really wild people inside, and having to really trust yourself enough to get out of your own dark abyss.”
Visually, the piece makes use of newt’s-eye footage of a forest fire screened on large, hanging transparent panels. Sonically, it calls on singers Young, Sharon Chohi Kim, and Micaela Tobin, turntablist Michael Day, bassist Braden Diotte, and cellist Marina Hasselberg. And technologically it deploys a digital “instrument” Young invented herself—a computer program that takes the voice and turns it into a wild, octave-jumping invocation.
“You don’t really hear a human voice; you just hear noises controlled by voice,” Young says. “So it’s a little bit disturbing and a little bit demonic, but then it comes out of that.
“Natural forces—really dangerous things, like fire—were a good metaphor for me,” she continues. “As much as they are scary and powerful and threatening, at the end of that, things do have a chance to really grow.”
EXO/ENDO is just one of four provocative pieces on Young’s upcoming Vancouver New Music program—which should be a good illustration of how academic composition is now being influenced by everything from death metal to extreme sports to pop radicals such as Tanya Tagaq.
Perhaps ironically, the most challenging work on the bill is the one piece where the human voice will be heard in amplified but unprocessed form. Erin Gee’s Echo Grey isn’t dependent on the use of digital software, but it does ask the singers to push various unconventional techniques, including singing while inhaling, to the point where they’re in danger of hyperventilation.
Nonetheless, Young admits that she hasn’t been practising Gee’s piece, for fear of running into some unexpected complications.
“I don’t think I should pass out alone here in my apartment,” she says, laughing. “But this piece opens up to some very intimate female sounds that, very easily, you could associate with all kinds of activities. It embraces them fully and takes them to the point of failure.”
Also on the bill are KAREN, DANIEL, PATRICK, CLARA, TABBY & DIN, local electronic musician John Mutter’s reality-TV-style role-playing game, and German composer Ulrich Krieger’s Schwarze Sonne, inspired by black metal and Old Norse myths.
“This is underground music,” Young says. “These are not compositions that are going to win prizes, because it’s pretty wild stuff—and I think it’s amazing that we live in a place where we can actually do this.”
Vancouver New Music presents Andrea Young: EXO/ENDO at the Orpheum Annex on Saturday (November 19).