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Contemporary Music Review Print

Nasher Museum of Art: Pamela Z: Metal/Vox/Water

March 2, 2007 - Durham, NC:

It was the eve of the lunar eclipse. New music aficionados who ventured out to the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham were well rewarded. Duke Performances guest composer and vocal artist Pamela Z, who resists being labeled, presented a one woman show, bringing together vocal artistry with visual and dance elements in an eclectic multi-media program. 

Trained as a singer in the bel canto tradition of Italian opera, Pamela Z is also a master of the vocal gymnastics inspired by Cathy Berberian, wife of composer Luciano Berio. Taking the art of extended performance technique to new places, she fearlessly exploits current technology. For example, her MIDI controller, the BodySynth™, uses a customized set of electrodes with leads secured to her arms and linked to her PowerBook laptop computer.  Using specific gestures that create a theatrical edge, she calls up samples and vocalizes over them in real time.

Z's program of twelve short pieces, compositions from a repertoire that she's built over the past twenty years, cover a  variety of subjects, vocal techniques and sounds. "Badagada," for example, represents her early explorations of "floating a melody over digital delay loops." Her playful use of phonemes reflecting global interests, reminds me of the work of Paul Lansky's "Chattermusic." And in "Birdvoice," from Voci, she explores the link between human language and birdsong. 

"Pop Titles 'You'" is a wonderful little piece grown out of text that Pauline Oliveros describes as "found poetry" from a page of The Phonologue Report. The lyric quality of her spoken voice provides a tender contrast to the gritty episodes of "Bone Music." She doesn't shy away from the political or controversial. For example, "Other," from Gaijin, exposes the bureaucratic language associated with post-September 11 government hysteria. And while viewing origami jet planes projected on the screen, I was reminded of Man Ray's early experimental films and the chill induced by Laurie Anderson's "O Superman." 

Besides the usual musical ones, Pamela Z crosses borders of culture, ethnicity, generation, geography, and time — inviting everyone in.