Soprano + 20th Century art songs + ambient noises = one delicate and arresting recital.
Says soprano Marianne Pousseur in the liner notes to Only: “I like when music mixes in with noise.” Hey, me too! However, all you tinnitus-tempting skronkmeisters should beware that she’s exploring very delicate noises here. In what amounts to a mobile recital, she sings beguiling little songs by such 20th Century titans as Morton Feldman and John Cage while wandering through everyday settings -- a train station, a church, and, most noticeably, a primary school -- and presumably receiving some very strange looks from passersby. Pousseur’s voice is appealing and clear, with measured vibrato and subtle shifts in timbre, depending on what she’s singing. The mostly acapella song selection runs the avant-gamut, from Cage’s three-pitched minimalism to Giacinto Scelsi’s ecstatic spookiness to some groovy Sephardic songs that seem to be accompanied by a trash can.
Only’s ambient sounds and careful mixing are its most endearing aspects. Feldman’s meditation on flight, set in a rustling forest, flows into Hanns Eisler’s childlike sing-song, complete with kids yelling in the background. When an echoing STOMP interrupts everything for Scelsi’s freakouts, the effect is jarring. Though these songs can be otherworldly, they also have the relevance of great poetry. In these days of Occupation, what could be better than learning Frederic Rzewski’s setting of Langston Hughes’s “Hungry Child”? (“Hungry child, I didn’t make this world for you / You didn’t buy any stocks in my railroads.”) Bonus points, though probably not a recording contract, if you record yourself singing the song during an OWS rally!