Jennifer Walshe: Nature Data

Interval Recordings departs from its instrumental norm with this vocal-based release by Dublin-born Jennifer Walshe, a Northwestern University, Chicago graduate who studied composition with John Maxwell Geddes and Kevin Volans. Interval being the experimental label that it is, Walshe's album, composed and performed entirely by her, is anything but a standard set of vocal songs but rather something considerably more daring—more Maja Ratkje than Diana Krall, obviously.

Interspersed with excerpts of radio announcer recordings providing details about various species, the opening title track otherwise presents twelve minutes of Walshe simulating numerous animal species using voice only. It's a bravura performance that documents Walshe drawing upon a remarkable range of techniques. Agitated and frantic, the piece extends through a seemingly encyclopedic range of voice effects, howling and hooting among them. The seven-part “(your name here)” ranges between episodes of multi-layered, spoken word banality centered on adolescent mall-speak musings and radically processed sections where Walshes's voice is rendered almost unrecognizable. The fourth part finds her terror-stricken, while the turbulent seventh bursts at the seams with speaking voices and motorcycle engine simulations, among other things. “i: same person / ii: not the same person” inhabits a nightmarish story-telling mode for much of its half-hour duration, as it moves through passages of creepy spoken word, vocal-generated winds whistling across an organ drone, vocal gibberish somersaulting over creaky string bowing, and the anguished choking and crying of a seeming torture session. “G.L.O.R.I.-” ends the disc on a less gloomy note with three dizzying minutes of rapid-fire quotes from pop songs (“Like A Prayer,” “All By Myself,” “Turning Japanese,” “Starman,” “Fernando,” “Careless Whisper,” etc.). Though it hardly needs be said, Nature Data is a provocative listen from start to finish, and admirers of the work of Ratkje, Meredith Monk, and Laurie Anderson should no doubt find much to appreciate about Walshe's bold recording.

July 2010