David Coll, a young American composer based in Belgium, provided a perfectly reasonable accounting for the impulses that led him to create “Position, Influence,” a work presented at Roulette on Friday evening during the third and last program of this year’s MATA Festival. In an onstage interview Mr. Coll said that the piece reflected his political awakening during two years spent in Paris recently.
Specifically, “Position, Influence” requires a soprano to recite, sing, yelp and otherwise intone passages from Charles de Gaulle’s responses to the May 1968 student uprising in Paris. The words, in Mr. Coll’s view, are devoid of meaning; hence the singer wears a laryngophone, a contact microphone that picks up sounds from the throat before the mouth can shape them into words. Those amplified tones are then used to stimulate sheets of metal hung from a rack.
Ingenious and eloquent in theory, the piece takes a special artist to make it stick; here, happily, Mr. Coll had access to Mellissa Hughes, a versatile, charismatic soprano endowed with brilliant technique and superlative stage instincts. By turns diva, seductress, scold and gorgon, as her voice resounded in piteous shrieks and livid roars, Ms. Hughes was astonishing, demonstrating anew why she has become indispensable to New York’s new-music ecosystem.
Mr. Coll’s piece was a standout amid strong company: a testament to MATA’s enduring mission and to the high standards maintained by its current directors, David T. Little and Yotam Haber.
Michèle Tosi (Resmusica.com): (Speaking of Ensemble 2e2m’s performance of Act, for soprano and 12 players)
“Using electronic equipment, the piece makes reference to a “theater of relations” established between a singer at the front of the stage – the amazing Shigeko Hata – and an instrumental ensemble that requires a unique stage layout. The dramaturgy is full of surprises and sudden twists linked to the interventions and emergence of the singer, seemingly acting with a secret strategy. The tension always re-engages, born from the power dynamics between the voice and the different instrumental groups.” [my translation from the French]
Isaac Schankler (NewMusicBox.com):
…I was literally and figuratively shaken by Vanessa Langer’s arresting performance of David Coll’s Position, influence for soprano and sound sculpture. Coll’s metallic sculpture moaned and keened in sympathy with the virtuosic vocals of Langer, who played her part with an exaggerated theatricality perfectly suited to the outsized nature of the piece.
Michael Strickland (sfciviccenter.blogspot.com):
The highlight of the evening was performed after intermission, Oakland composer/sound artist David Coll’s Position, Influence, which sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s another piece written for soprano, percussion and electronics except that the singer is controlling the sheet metal array behind her with breathing, vocalizing, and touch, or at least I think that was what was going on. The piece requires singing, chanting, and simple French speech, along with the physical and musical chops to virtually control the percussion wall. Sometimes the singing was amplified and fed back, while just as often it was unamplified, creating a marvelous texture. The composer himself was sitting at the sound controls, and the whole piece was a triumph, especially in Vanessa Langer’s fearless performance.
John Zarobell, Artpractical.com: (Speaking of Kim Anno’s Water City Berkeley, a recent film collaboration of mine)
Water City Berkeley’s vision of a half-submerged future draws on collaborations with Oberlin Dance choreographer KT Nelson, who has contributed beautiful compositions to the film performed by dancers half-submerged in the waters of the Bay. Composer David Coll’s provocative score, played live by SF Sound Players and the Berkeley Chamber Ensemble during the performances, is full of whimsical surprise due to its enigmatic rhythms and diachronic temporality.
Aidan Levy, The Village Voice:
David Coll’s Position, Influence brought something completely different, with the effervescent soprano Mellissa Hughes channeling Charles de Gaulle by way of Sarah Palin in a sprechstimme reminiscent of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. Playing on de Gaulle’s 1968 exhortation against the student protests, “Je ne me retirerai pas,” Hughes reduced the French demagogue’s stentorian posturing to a guttural sound and fury through a laryngophone, a small mic attached to the throat. Meant as a liberal commentary on the Occupy protests, the piece skewers blustering conservative rhetoric and passes it through a proverbial food processor for frighteningly comic effect.
Jayson Greene, Pitchfork:
[Mellissa Hughes] reappeared on Friday for David Coll‘s blood-freezing “Position, Influence”, standing at a podium, flanked by an imposing wall of metal sheets. The piece, which Coll explained concerned “becoming political while abroad,” outfitted Hughes with a laryngophone, the throat microphone that fighter pilots wear as standard regulation. Hughes was by turns coolly composed and legitimately frightening as she raged in librarian-prim horn rims, repeating, in French, the words of Charles De Gaulle: “I will not step down.” Malevolent bursts of noise poured from her mouth, transforming the sound of feedback into something like a physical dry-heave– there were moments where Hughes’ body language suggested someone being force-fed electrical wire.
Bonnie Wright, Henceforth Records blog:
…Mellissa Hughes vocalized to perfection David Coll’s “Position, Influence.” I only wish I could express how astonishing this was. Mellissa not only has a wonderful voice but her stage presence is phenomenal. She presented this piece with vocal techniques utilizing a laryngophone, a contact mic that picks up sounds from the throat before the mouth can shape the words; pedal effects and gestures I have not before experienced and now hope to again and again.
Feast of Music(.com):
The Friday concert opened with a bare stage, with the exception of a podium, a wall of sheet metal, and the maverick vocalist, Melissa Hughes. While performing David Coll’s Position, Influence, Hughes spoke, sang, and otherwise vocalized portions of a 1968 speech given by Charles de Gaulle, which was then picked up via laryngaphone—a device that picks up sound directly from the throat—and head-set microphone. Similar to Papalexandri-Alexandri’s piece, this work could have easily become one in which the initial idea proved more interesting than the musical production, however Coll found a fine balance between idea and execution.
Daniele Sahr, Seen and Heard-International (.com):
The frustration and desires inherent in communication were, ironically, communicated powerfully by Coll’s composition—the very issues that normally inhibit mutual understanding came through clearly.
Andrew Fein ( blog.feinviolins.com ):
American composer David Coll’s piece “Position, Influence” was a resounding success, with critics such as the New York Times and Pitchfork Media celebrating both Mr. Coll’s composition and the performance by New York based soprano Melissa Hughes.
Interview with Thomas Deneuville at ‘I care if you listen’ can be found here
Interview with Chris McGovern at ‘The Glass’ can be found here
DeWitt Cheng (East Bay Express):
Anno/Rivera/Coll’s multimedia installation, “Water Mark,” projected real-time videos of the nearby Cordonices Creek that viewers could affect via a piano keyboard.
Aaron Gervais (AaronGervais.com):
There were also a couple of gems within the premières. David Coll’s Untitled II particularly stood out as a competent and interesting piece. He managed to balance extended multiphonic techniques in the clarinet with the violin and piano in a way that sounded whole; the clarinet didn’t sound like it was doing something unrelated to the other instruments, as is often the case when using multiphonics in an ensemble setting. And the musical form was convincing and elegant.
Colin Holter (NewMusicBox):
…David Coll brought a slightly scaled-down version of his piece Position, Influence for soprano, computer, and resonating metal sheets; the excellent Twin Cities singer Carrie Shaw performed it. Even this reduced version attained an impressive counterpoint of subtlety and cacophony; it left me with a hunger to hear the full version.
Justin Schell (MNartists.org):
Another piece engaging current events was David Coll’s Position, Influence, which featured soprano Carrie Shaw behind a lectern, outfitted with a headset mic as well as contact mikes on her throat. Behind her were three sets of hanging sheet metal of various sizes, twelve pieces in all. Reminiscent of the industrial noise of Einstürzende Neubaten, Shaw declaimed, spat, breathed, and sang through a variety of politically explosive French texts, including statements from De Gaulle, accompanied by a chorus of responses scraped and hummed on the metal sheets.
Top Ten Transbaynian Moments of 2007:
#4. Erik Ulman, Leighton Fong, and Florian Conzetti performing David Coll’s ‘1956-1958’ @ UCB. Coll is one of the more promising composers I’ve heard recently from the Bay Area’s academic scene.
-Matt Ingalls (Transbay Creative Music Calendar)
Steve Layton (Sequenza21.com):
..his excellent work — by turns dark, contemplative, moody and even violently voluptuous.
Robert Andrew Perez (Match Stick Box):
…the music provided by David Coll was the main event in “MinEvent.” The atmosphere created by the tonally surprising force of the underscoring provided a solid wave that carried this drudgery toward the finish line. It literally reverberated throughout the entire space, vibrating panels of metal at specific and poignant frequencies.
Gerard van der Leeuw (De rode Leeuw):
Inferno (2002 / 2005) by David Coll (US, 1980) made a deep impression. The way Coll knew how to give life to a text by Dante, compelled the whole audience. The work, full of surprising effects, was brought convincingly by Jannie Pranger, soprano, Rik Andriessen, flute, en Willem van der Vliet, trumpet. Wonderful, how Jannie Pranger suddenly went from the Italian of Dante to the Dutch at the final conclusion of the piece. A piece to remember and, frankly, I would have granted this sympathetic composer a little more…
Door Jochem Valkenburg (NRC Handelsblad):
Soprano Jannie Pranger showed an imposing arsenal of sounds in Inferno (2002) by American composer David Coll, at the same time exposing the weakness of the piece, though: Coll wants to pull all stops and not miss any little instrumental or vocal trick. Without an internal motivation, however, this results in somewhat gratuitous compositions.