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Song Circus, “Anatomy of Sound” = a capella vocal sextet from Norway – 2L

Song Circus, “Anatomy of Sound” = RUBEN SVERRE GJERTSEN: Landscape with Figures; OLE-HENRIK MOE: Persefone – Song Circus – 2L-117 SABD, 56:59 SACD + 5.0 DTS audio-only Blu-ray (11/13/15) **1/2:

Strange, spooky and not for everyone.

Song Circus is an acclaimed a capella vocal sextet from Norway that specializes in works and improvisations using the human voice in a sort of architectural way; to build sound environments that are very textural and not relying regularly on the emphasis of harmonies, pitches and melodies.
In other words, their work, impressive though it is, is a bit of a throwback to the sounds of Stockhausen, Ligeti and some electronic sound fields added to augment the mood and texture. This is, by and large, very abstract stuff that is best appreciated by listening to the intended vocal textures and bits of harmonies and range that creep in somewhat unexpectedly.

Song Circus has worked a lot with composer Ruben Sverre-Gjertsen, who creates the electronics as well as sculpts and edits bits of texts, before; in the case of the present Landscape with Figures, the texts are from poetry by Damian Vitanza and James Joyce. Don’t expect to hear extended stretches of prose set to melody which then helps to paint the mood of the words, however. This work is much more fragmented and abstract than that. The words hardly matter, it seems, to the listening experience.

Persefone by Ole-Henrik Moe is a similar affair. I must say I enjoyed the texture of this work a bit as his score utilizes five female voices and wine glasses (played on the rim) so that all the sound elements are acoustic. There is no text here, per se, but the singers do a nice job creating the strange and ethereal sounds that we rather anticipated. Moe apparently studied a bit with the renowned iconoclast Yiannis Xenakis.

Evaluating this disc is a bit complicated. If all the music by the two composers represented is similar to their respective works here, I’m just not that motivated to go hear more. Song Circus, however, seems like a very dedicated and skilled ensemble performing in a genre that is best appreciated by a small niche crowd, to be sure.

The sound on the Blu-ray this time is better, more spacious and – therefore – a bit more atmospheric than the SACD counterpart but not so much so that you would want to listen only to the one species. 2L’s recording and engineering is always excellent. I just do not see too many people really getting into this particular offering.

—Daniel Coombs

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