Elizabeth Hilliard: Sea To The West

review-sea-west-x1-cong

There’s no use pretending this is an easy album to get into, though it is beautiful and calming in places. It’s an album of contemporary works for solo voice with occasional electronics, six works by four composers, all written for the solo voice.

If it was purely an electronic album it would be out on the leftfield end of the spectrum, albeit with some good tracks; arty experimentalists Liars aside, we can’t think of anything to compare, though as this is “classical”, you can’t really call it wacky or leftfield. Challenging maybe, or advanced. We have played it a lot: it at least merits attention for the effort that’s gone into it.

(After writing this review for the paper, I was listening to the Ninja Tunes Solid Steel show on Soundcloud and the opening song – Aliencuttlefish’s cover of Marilyn Manson’s The Dope Show, done  a capella – is in similar vein. Ninja Tunes is of course uber cool and allowed to be leftfield).

The songs are sung by soprano Elizabeth Hilliard, whose virtuosity is impressive, and she deserves admiration whether or not you like the music; singers and fans of the human voice should get this for the technique alone.

Christopher Fox’s Sea To The West opens, and it’s one of the more challenging pieces. It describes the sun setting but also memories, the voice portraying the sun’s rays flashing out across the sea (we think). Towards the end the voice is looped to create harmony, a littoral (sorry, literal) memory of what came before.

Linda Buckley’s Númarímur is more palatable, almost ambient. It’s based on Icelandic text and fans of Sigur Ros will find the style familiar.

Gráinne Mulvey’s Phonology Garden uses the human voice to examine what the voice can do, using taped words mixed electronically. Mulvey compares the voice to a garden, so there’s digging, a squeaky wheelbarrow, plants growing and so.

Christopher Fox’s Magnification is easier than his earlier piece. The singer here recorded her own humming to accompany the later singing, the text coming from the Magnificat.

Mulvey’s Eternity Is Now is less electronic than Phonology Garden and powerfully sets to music a poem written to be read aloud at times of grief.

David Bremner’s Logic ballad #2 closes, perhaps a wise choice for the last track: it assembles three-word phrases using a pre-selected list of 25 words, though it’s better than that sounds.

This is certainly not your average CD and while it is not inaccessible, there’s no point pretending it’s not avant-garde. It’s got a compulsive quality about it, though. Fans of the voice, ambient music and even meditation might like to try it.

This is out on Metier, MSV 28551.

Go to your local indie record store or click on the link to buy.

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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