Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Baird Hersey's Extraordinary Music for Voice I

A little while ago on this blog a question was raised about Baird Hersey. "Whatever happened to him?" someone asked in the comments section of a review of a David Mott CD. For those that might have missed it, in the mid-seventies Baird recorded a very interesting set of duets for electric guitar (Baird) and percussion/drums (David Moss), Coessential, which was very well received. He formed a progressive-avant big band Year of the Ear that had critical and artistic success and several seminal records at that time as well. His considerable compositional and arranging talents made this an important group, as did the aggregation of some terrific soloists. The band deserves to be remembered and I hope the recordings will be re-released sometime soon.

After those high points, I lost track of what Baird was doing. It turns out his practice of yoga and perfection of a throat singing vocal technique (akin to the vocal practices of Tibetan monks and Siberian Tuvan folk artists) converged in an all-vocal style of music that brought Baird into entirely new musical realms. The vocal technique involves the manipulation of the mouth cavity and throat to produce fundamental vocal sounds along with pronounced overtones, so that the solo voice becomes a multi-toned instrument.

What Baird makes of this we can hear in one of his initial forays into the new style, his recording Waking the Cobra (Hersey), recorded in 1997-98. This is the first of a series of Baird's recent CD's that we'll cover in this blog in the coming weeks. And it's a very good place to start.

Essentially, this entire recording consists of Baird's expansive vocal pieces. I believe all of the parts were sung by Baird via overdubbing. It is a meditative, cosmically reflective music, with much in the way of drones and vast landscapes of vocal sound color, with the overtone singing providing one of the primary timbres in the ensemble. It is a brilliant music, hard to classify, and quite rewarding to experience. There is a primal quality akin to various Tibetan, Japanese and Indian religious-ritual vocal styles, but it also has a foot in the contemporary world of modern concert music in its conceptual thrust.

It is a music that verbal description cannot really approximate. One must hear it to appreciate it. Sublimity comes in many forms. This is one of them.

If you have a cosmic bent and/or if you want to explore something very new yet very primal in the world of new music, you should seek this one out. Google Baird Hersey to find out more. And stay tuned.

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