Concert review: Kristin Norderval at iEAR

Kristin Norderval is a singer and composer in the avant-garde tradition of Yoko Ono and Meredith Monk. Her highly personalized vision of sound art is born of her life experiences and realized through a fluent vocal technique and a small battery of electronic devices. Norderval’s hourlong concert Wednesday in the iEAR series at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute featured seven electro-acoustic works, most of which were the result of an August residency at RPI. She was joined by trombonist Monique Buzzarte and poet Barbara Barg.

Several eloquent works blended acoustic sounds with live electronics and lent a meditative and enveloping effect to the entire program. The evening began with the playback of a recording of Norderval and Buzzarte improvising inside the historic Troy Gasholder Building. The slow pacing and long echoes formed a rich tapestry dominated by the glistening long tones of the trombone. Other sounds captured from the gashouse were integrated in “Clapping Piece.”

For most of the evening, Norderval stood center stage, a laptop computer in front of her, other small devices and a mixing board to her right and cables everywhere. In one brief work, she left the gadgetry behind and walked to a grand piano to give a gorgeous soliloquy. She sang rather sculptural melodies into its sound boarding, at times plucking the strings.

While her music is soft-edged, with few abrasive textures or jolting transitions, Norderval has sharp political views that were at the center of several works. Her commitment to peace and nonviolence was most on display in “They Call Them Carpets,” written over the last two weeks. The voice of an Iraqi woman, a friend of the composer who was recorded in recent phone conversations, formed an electronic ground. From the back of the hall, Buzzarte interjected trombone blasts sequenced in time to represent each instance that the U.S. has already bombed Iraq since the beginning of this year (35 bombings over some 230 days).

“Flags” commenced with Norderval singing a syncopated riff on the opening lines of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” She then laid down a hazy electronic background while Barg recited a poem written last year in the days after Sept. 11. Quotation and juxtaposition were also at the heart of “Parable,” in which Norderval sang with a certain dry irony the “Old 124” hymn (“Turn back oh man, forswear thy foolish ways”) while Barg read from recent newspaper clippings, mostly on power and corruption, occasionally intoning
and I did it my way.”

After the concert, the performers with other musicians and poets from RPI began a series of performances, improvisations and meditations to form a 12-hour overnight vigil for peace, titled “Awakening.”

Originally appeared in the Times Union.

Leave a Reply