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February 2, 2015

Roomful Of Teeth's Vision To Be Known As Band, Not A Choir

When singers sing together, unaccompanied, it sometimes feel like a minor miracle, some sleight-of-hand or hidden alchemy at work: Without frets, keyboards, mechanical levers, measured blasts of voltage or skins to tighten or loosen, how do they pull it off? How do singers stay together, in tune, through mind-boggling harmonic changes and hyperactive counterpoint, and still manage to land on their collective feet?

Roomful of Teeth, a N.Y.C-based eight-member vocal ensemble, takes that core mystery, rides it out to the nearest cliff and tosses it over the edge. Not content to vocalize within usual Western-music parameters, or to borrow extended techniques from composer Meredith Monk (one of their main influences), they scour the globe for ways to expand their sonic palette: multiphonic Tuvan throat-singing, Appalachian yodeling, Hindustani and Persian classical vocal techniques, and so on. They also grunt, growl, sing drones, chant, bray like '70s rock stars or croon like Broadway divas. It's all in play.

Nor are they happy just to arrange pre-existing music; Roomful of Teeth only performs pieces written just for them, or else they write their own. One of their internal compositions, Caroline Shaw's four-movement "Partita for 8 Voices," won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music — arguably the most prestigious award a composer can win. Their self-titled debut features music by hot young composers — William Brittelle, Caleb Burhans, Judd Greenstein, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Rinde Eckert, Tuneyard's Merrill Garbus and Shaw herself — and won a Grammy Award in 2014 for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. On the way to becoming one of the premier new-music vocal groups in the country, they've also found favor with the Pitchfork crowd and NPR listeners. It's all perfectly in keeping with founding director Brad Wells' vision of a band, "not an f-ing choir."

Read lots more.

Posted by acapnews at February 2, 2015 12:00 AM