by Jen Hill
performances of New Music are often brimming with references and implications that tend to be checked at the door where certain significations are overlooked or excused in practices of artmaking. saturday night's performances by quince contemporary vocal ensemble and olivia block carried a great deal of weight in this way but abandoned these concerns at surface-level examination.
the concert began with a conservative program from quince that relied on simplistic subtlety in terms of purpose and approach, in that any possibility of risk or consequence was masked by a metaphorical (and at one point, very real) veil of restraint.
the main attraction of quince's performance was the premiere of Tinta Roja, Tinta Negra by luis fernando amaya, which featured a literal curtain that prevented a direct view of the performers. the audience was presented with the silhouettes of three feminine bodies that became one-dimensional props without identifiable voices. this quasi-acousmatic approach created distance between the source and effect of electronic sound but revoked the performers' ownership of their voices, subjecting them to a tradition of visual fetishization and aural appropriation. is it any better to be heard and not seen than to be seen and not heard? Tinta Roja, Tinta Negra objectifies the female bodies on stage and makes a theatrical mess of an otherwise pleasant listening experience.
the remainder of the set blurred together with glimpses of cello, percussion, and subtle electronics. a handful of a cappella pieces pulled from their "grab bag of vocal trios" created a sense of indifference that fell flat in terms of musical diversity and curatorial discretion.
olivia block’s set, titled performed interference, acted as a survey of the relationship of signal to noise and of signification to utterance, utilizing shortwave radio and morse code translators as means of expression. block began her performance accompanied by quince, who played a more subdued role than in the first half of the concert as their virtuosic vibrato was replaced with monotone recitation. the vocalists articulated individual english characters translated from morse code with neat precision as block’s radio static droned on from behind them. fragmented morse code punctuated the spoken text through a romantic nostalgia for dated technology.
in the second piece, block was joined by carol genetti who recited similar abstract text, this time highlighting its ties to the concrete sonority of the voice in all its variations. barely audible electronics allowed for a nuanced performance by block and genetti, straddling lines of signification in the text and radio signals. both pieces were concerned with and overwhelmed by the impulse to ascribe significance to the human voice, effectively obstructing the essential form and material.
both performances from saturday night's concert remained at a comfortable distance from consequential engagement while providing aesthetic affectation. neither set felt fully committed to expression, displacing the weight of this through symbolic separation of voice from body and text from signification.
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