It’s everything and nothing you’ve heard before. Vocal octet Roomful of Teeth’s recent performance at New York City’s Ecstatic Music Festival was variously described as exciting, beautiful, and just plain unusual. The professional singers study technique with masters from around the world and combine what they learn with Western styles to explore the fullest possible range of human voice.
Created in 2009 by Brad Wells, choral director at Williams College, Roomful of Teeth studies voice techniques that differ, especially physiologically, from their own classical training. So far these have included Tuvan throat singing from Russia, in which the voice simultaneously produces more than one note; Inuit throat singing; belting, the powerful style familiar in musical theater but also found in folk music from Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa; and yodeling.
These techniques “opened many of our ears not just to what the voice is capable of, but also how people have evolved to sing” differently, Wells says. “Our voices are audible fingerprints of us as individuals and cultures and subcultures.” Roomful of Teeth, he explains, is “a family reunion of the voice.”
In August the group will have summer residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, working with a P’ansori master from Korea on epic narrative singing and with Sardinian singers on the “a tenore” tradition, a type of polyphonic folk singing. Roomful of Teeth will collaborate on new works with avant-garde composers Merrill Garbus (of tUnE-yArDs), Sarah Kirkland Snider, and installation artist Jane Philbrick. The group’s debut album will be released in 2012.
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