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Guest blogger David Kennedy writes about the Juxtavoices CD in preparation which will include an arrangment of part of my poetry sequence Twelve Entries.
A couple of years ago, Kirstie Swain wrote on Ideastap that the radical or anti-choir is ‘a burgeoning cult’ and went on to detail eight national and international examples. Groups like Hackney-based, all female Gaggle, The Parsonage and The Choir with No Name seem to share an agenda based around radicalised identities and repertoires. The 30-strong, Sheffield-based Juxtavoices, co-directed by improvising musician Martin Archer and poet and publisher Alan Halsey, stands slightly to the side of the current anti-choir scene.
Standing slightly to the side perhaps has something to do with Juxtavoices’ membership being drawn primarily from Sheffield’s leftfield art, music and poetry scenes but only partly accounts for the group’s distinctiveness. Watching and listening to Juxtavoices record their first CD in St. Andrews Church, Psalter Lane, on a sunny Saturday in September, I was struck by the attention given to voicing words and combining voices. It put me in mind of Kurt Newrock’s work with large vocal groups in the 1980s and of the international acapella ensemble Vocal Summit which contained, at various times, Ursula Dudiziak, Jeanne Lee, Bobby McFerrin, Lauren Newton, and Norma Winstone. Like those groups, Juxtavoices is about improvising and about exploring what can be done with various combinations of high and low, loud and quiet, speech and singing, talking and whispering. So Archer might direct the women to ‘break up the syllables on rising notes’ and put that against the men performing their text in falling tones. And then he might reverse it.
Juxtavoices is also distinguished by its use of experimental literatures. The group’s repertoire already includes pieces based on texts by Samuel Beckett, Bob Cobbing, Alan Halsey, Geraldine Monk, Gertrude Stein and Christine Kennedy. Working with texts that challenge conceptions of the page and how we read and which are often designed to have more life off the page than on it enables Juxtavoices to move beyond the usual categories. The group is also unusual in its almost 50/50 gender composition which gives it a striking and enviable dynamic range. Juxtavoices has been gigging regularly in the north of England so look out for an improvising anti-choir in a class of its own. And put the CD on your wish list!
Learn more about Juxtavoices on the Discus Records website