Litany for the Whale
Theatre of Voices
John Cage, Paul Hillier, Terry Riley
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907187
Paul Hillier is mostly known for his performances of early music, although he has recorded the music of Ingram Marshall, minimalist composer Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt and others. On this CD by radical avant gard American composer John Cage (1912 – 1992), Hillier is joined by his ensemble Theatre of Voices and special guest early minimalist Terry Riley. There’s a wide range of vocal music by Cage on this disc.
A pastoral duet between Theatre of Voices members Alan Bennett and Paul Elliott on Litany for the Whale opens the disc. 26 minutes of Cageian vocalese based on the word whale where two voices sound as one. I listened to this piece a few times and read the liner notes before I realized there was more than one person singing.
Aria No. 2 starts with thunder and a kiss, Paul Hillier explores vowels and consonants from five languages: Armenian, Russian, Italian, French and English. On the late Cage piece, Five, five voices blend harmoniously. Hillier’s solo voice on The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs is accompanied by closed piano. One can hear him tapping about on the piano while singing text from Finnegan’s Wake. Solo for Voice from Songbooks, is split up between two performers who make textural breathing sounds that are in turn electronically processed.
Soloist Andrea Fullington sings Experiences No.2 based on e.e cummings “III,” Sonnets-Unrealities, Tulips and Chimneys (1923). This sweet ballad serves as an introduction to conversational tone of: Mesostics re and not re Marcel Duchamp as performed by Paul Hillier and Terry Riley. Back and forth: Riley recites and Hillier sings through various digital sound processing devices.
Aria (for Cathy Berberian) is a theatrical festival for seven voices and electronics. Hillier arranged the piece for multiple voices to cover the different vocal styles. The electronics give the listener an added colorful element of enviroment . Bells, breaking glass, water, the surf and other sounds illustrate the work.
A satisfying and frequently unpredictable survey of Cage’s vocal music as performed by Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices. Highly recommended.
Originally published online at Juxtaposition Ezine.