Iris Garrelfs: Specified Encounters

Though Iris Garrelfs may be less well known than other artists in the BiP_HOp roster, she's actually a Renaissance figure of sorts. A published photographer, creator of site-specific sound-based installations, and co-organizer of the London club Sprawl, Garrelfs now takes on voice-generated music-making in Specified Encounters' seven tracks. It's not a new concept, of course, with Björk's Medulla the most recent and well-known foray but Garrelfs imposes her own distinctive stamp on the genre.

When wordless voices hauntingly swell into ululating choirs in “encounter 1,” the effect is reminiscent of Meredith Monk, especially when the vocals swoop. But by electronically manipulating and warping her voice in radical manner, Garrelfs' boldly experimental approach goes further than Monk's. In the second piece, for example, her voice becomes a veritable percussion orchestra performing an alien drone. Haunted voices and ominous splinters foster a mood of dread in the fourth setting, while the fifth plunges the listener into an industrial netherworld of clanks, rattles, and possessed garble. The album's obvious centerpiece is the eighteen-minute “encounter 6.” In the first of five sections, Garrelfs layers a supplicating, hymn-like vocal line (that wouldn't sound out of place on a John Tavener or Arvo Pärt recording) over a loud, looping base of echoing voices. A more restrained and meditative section follows, with the now-dominant, ruminative vocal gradually building in force and density. A central, wholly 'instrumental' episode of rippling static and aggressive bass noise is eventually joined by voices that initially merge with the instrumental sounds but then separate and morph into improvised babble. Despite its length, at no time does the piece feel too long or in need of pruning, a detail that helps make “encounter 6” the most remarkable composition on this distinctive album.

June 2005