Images by Zan Wimberley.

RESONANT BODIES  is a festival of new vocal music founded in New York in 2013 to exhibit the shape-shifting power of the human voice. It was initiated by American singer Lucy Dhegrae to display what the human voice is capable of and to give a platform to adventurous vocalists. The festival has now occurred in various locations and this is the first time it has come to Sydney. Carriageworks is the ideal location. Take something familiar and give it an ambitious new twist.

RESONANT BODIES FESTIVAL invites vocalists to curate and perform their own 45 minute sets, with no restrictions on repertoire, style or format. On Saturday night the featured vocalists were Australian artist Mitchell Riley and American artist Ariadne Greif.

Mitchell Riley performed a new work by Jack Symonds and Pierce Wilcox. Taking Patrick White’s Voss as its basis, this song cycle for voice, piano (Jack Symonds) and electronics (Benjamin Carey) reveals Mitchell’s rich resonant voice contrasting with his ethereal falsetto. There are a series of miniature songs in which the sparse lines are repeated as Mitchell writhes and contorts around the stage. These snippets of words, such as “art of the possible” and “what remains must be the soul” barely constitute a story but they do give Mitchell and opportunity to display his marvelous vocal skills. The stage itself features a highly reflective circular floor which combines with the excellent lighting to create truly dynamic visuals, capturing the tortured realities of being human.

Ariadne Greif’s performance was a recollection of childhood’s storytelling, fairytales and creative play as distorted by adult recollection and understanding. She arrived on stage on a scooter with a sense of being lost, takes a nap, immersed herself in a series of books, made a paper boat and then drew water for the boat to sail on. As children often will, she took the painting off on a very creative tangent. Her painting is a liberating and playful expression of herself. To accompany these stories Ariadne uses her extraordinary non-verbal vocalisations. Opera is her language and she combines this with the pre-speech verbalisations of children to create a narrative. Ariadne’s soaring operatic voice had excellent accompaniment from Alessandro Pittorino’s organ and Benjamin Carey’s electronics. It includes new work from Shawn Jaeger, Ricardo Romaneiro and Ryan Chase. Ariadne’s spectacular finale was a spine chilling rendition of Schubert’s Erlkonig and the highlight of the evening.

RESONANT BODIES was designed to display adventurous vocalists and these performances were excellent realisations of this intention. From reading about RESONANT BODIES FESTIVAL I was concerned it may have been potentially inaccessible and unapproachable experimental performance art, but the singing of both artists and the interplay with the musicians and staging was of such a high calibre that it was an enjoyable and memorable evening.

Resonant Bodies Festival was at Carriageworks from 31st August to 1st September.