Cathy van Eck – Song No 3, histrionic electronic music

Cathy van Eck, Song No 3 – histrionic electronic music

Traditional stage rhetorics often find themselves in an awkward place within academic electronic music. The modernist movement wiped the slate clean of the conventions that were made obsolete either by technology or the desire for a clear-cut break with the past. And when traditional stage rhetorics are indeed referenced in this domain, there is a high risk of populist and nostalgic if not gimmicky outcomes. Cathy van Eck’s Song No 3 is a short etude that establishes a brilliant synthesis in which formal electronic music meets the familiar gestural vocabulary of vocal performance, transforming both into something other. Considering the microphone and the loudspeaker as musical instruments in themselves, Cathy van Eck’s work investigates the multiple ways in which the body and gestures of the performer can effect the relationship between microphone and loudspeaker in order to produce different sonic outcomes. In Song No 3 the performer wears a speaker attached to the head in front of the mouth, with a sheet of paper attached around the speaker to conceal the face, and holds a microphone in one hand. The performance is centred on the histrionic movement of the arms and hands of the performer. While singers traditionally spread their arms to produce a certain emphasis (the singer is a musician and actor), here this conventional gesture becomes functional to alter the distance between the microphone and speaker. As the performer draws the microphone closer or further away from the mouth, the sound emitted by the speaker changes. The microphone is employed as a sensor to detect the amplitude of the sound emitted by the speaker at its relative distance. The amplitude level, which is picked up by the microphone, acts as a control signal for software parameters that determine the sound generation. The piece proposes a sequence of several different mappings between sound and gesture, which have the effect of constructing and then defying the expectations of the audience. Transcending the instrumentation employed, the figure of the masked and faceless performer emitting otherworldly sounds from the black hole of the mouth touches on deeply embedded archetypes. Matteo Marangoni


Cathy van Eck – Song No 3