To many, hearing the term “a cappella” can illicit uncomfortable reactions. Finally the term has been snatched back from collegiate pop music groups, and is back in the hands of dedicated experimental musicians. The brain child of Brad Wells, Roomful of teeth explores the vast array of tones possible with the world’s most remarkable instrument: the human voice. While they live closer to the classical end of the spectrum than pop, both the vocal techniques and writing for the ensemble are far flung from traditional. Extended Vocal Technique, pioneered by composer, vocalist, and performance artist Meredith Monk, is central the uniqueness of ROT’s sound. They overtone-sing, throat sing, yodel, use vocal fry, shout, and even speak at times.
In performance, it’s far easier to identify the specialties of each of the eight members. The composers intimately researched the group, and take full advantages of each member’s unique vocal skill. The focus of this performance was Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize winning composition “Partida for 8 Voices.” It’s gripping on the recording, but the piece is otherworldly when performed right in front of you. Shaw’s intimate knowledge of the group, and extremely creative arrangements made the performance an almost transcendental sonic experience.
By Paul Jordan Talbot