Vocal Discords

two ways of throwing your voice.

Laurie Anderson. Photo: Andrew Zuckerman.

In recent visits to Chicago, both performer Laurie Anderson and choreographer Joe Goode toyed with vocal masking and manipulation, but to almost opposite ends.

Anderson performed material from her recent album, Homeland, by adding a voice-lowering effect to her voice. Taking on the role of her alter-ego, Fenway Bergamot, she created an odd distance between body and voice, appearance and sound. The result was a strange, rather disturbing dehumanization. As the audience moved back and forth between Anderson’s pixie-ish looks and the monstrous baritone emerging from the speakers, there was a sort of disembodiment. A gap or rupture burst forth in the space between Anderson’s lips and the microphone that not only amplified, but also transformed her words into electronic signals.

If Anderson became a robot, Goode moved in the other direction. His dancers performed with a puppet, Wonderboy, whose voice was created by dancers once again speaking through various electronic effects. The voice moved higher and lower, spoken by male and female dancers; it was distorted, wavering, twinkling. The effect was not a momentary dehumanization, a roboticization, of a person, as in Anderson’s performance, but rather something more like blowing human breath into the inanimate: a puppet given the gift of feeling and life. There was wonderment, a kind of breathless leap as Wonderboy’s voice gave him a body, and his chants, made real, turned enchanted.


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