Agnes Hvizdalek – Index

by Freq | 2017-05-09T08:23:42+00:000000004231201705 08:23


Agnes Hvizdalek - IndexAgnes Hvizdalek‘s solo début Index is a 47-minute piece that explores the sonic possibilities of the human voice, recorded at the bottom of a 60 metre-high chimney in the ancient factory of Casa das Caldeiras in the heart of São Paulo, made during her residency there in 2016. Originally from Vienna’s experimental music scene but based in Oslo’s exploratory hub of highly skilled musicians, Hvidalek’s first album is the result of a solid ten years of research and fascination with abstract vocal music.

It is her selection of these vocal sounds, her interactions with the chimney itself, and the way she includes the distant external surrounding ambience which makes this an impressive feat of musical variation and real time composition from a single, bare sound source. For me the best times to listen were alone at night, where no sound could interfere with the intense isolationist nature of the work, and to be completely alone with the intimacy of the performance recording and all of the acoustic phenomena within.

The record kicks off with a controlled, slowly sharpening, modulated breathing, far from meditation and more like the finely crafted shaping of a synth’s noise oscillator; it clears the floor for the commencing of vocal experiments which slowly appear out of the cold compressed blasts of air. Hvizdalek’s incredible control over her voice is made all the more apparent by the lack of unintentional breathing sounds when she pauses before commencing her next spectral vocal experiment.

My own references ranged from hearing guitar feedback, to a top-notch analogue oscillator filter being swept: sometimes I heard two guitars feeding back, sometimes two oscillators fighting each other’s frequency modulations. Recollections of the clicks and cuts of late ’90s electronica arose. Sounds that one would normally need a couple of good synths, laptop or effects to generate, Hvizdalek can generate with her voice. Some of the intense minimal sonic explorations of Ryoji Ikeda or the more extreme minimal Raster Noton releases sprang to mind, with sound reduced to intent and fixation.

At some points it’s almost like she has become a tropical creature herself — some kind of bizarre insect found in the southern hemisphere that freaks you out with its intensely articulated, cryptic clicking language. And these imaginings are awoken just by the occasional odd passing distant aircraft that resets the stage, functioning as a reminder that this is a person standing in isolation in a chimney.

Index‘s 47 minutes can be experienced as a series of musical movements with micro-compositional arcs, building up to a stunning climax. The transition from her detailed abstract vocal palette to the overwhelming overtone singing where Hvizdalek really opens up and lets rip is a masterful interplay between the artist and her space. And it’s at this point that I feel my soul being challenged — and I start falling down the dark tunnel of voices. Suddenly I’m in the chimney — I am part of the chimney, just another one of its reverberations bouncing around and scattered into the dark.

I don’t know how she does it but it literally sounds like two voices darkly harmonizing together — a bizarre wailing choir of women in the mountains, and I keep reminding myself that it’s another one of Hvizdalek’s vocal hallucinations. The “voices” choir up in the pipe reminding me of the wrath some of the more striking moments of Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares. The dynamics rise and fall, and push on for one final call to the powers beyond where it’s almost Hvizdalek battling against her own reflections.

The press release relates that the title “Index” and its graphics of Hvizdalek’s index finger points out “the thin line we walk between privacy and public… and becomes a brutal yet friendly symbol of our time”. We live in an age where we intensely focus on our own, recorded reflections, feeding personal information into a system which returns a personally tailored environment, effectively blocking out other information. An “echo chamber”, as it’s often referred too. It’s an interesting perspective — whether intentional or not, to relate this (at times) unnerving yet impressive experiment to the dark side of the public-personal space, a slowly emerging power that inevitably surrounds us all.

-James Welburn-

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