It is difficult to imagine Orlando Gough entering into anything without total enthusiasm. His full steam ahead approach to life gathers you up in his wake – whether he is discussing cooking, a new rap artist or in this case, the day of events that he has curated for the ‘Voices Across the World’ festival at the Royal Opera House (commissioned by its contemporary arm ROH2). At the heart of the day are twelve of his favourite singers, invited to perform either a cappella or with minimal accompaniment for twenty minutes each. The chosen singers represent an eclectic mix of styles, from yodelling to early music and opera, and bring geographically divergent influences from Bulgaria, Sri Lanka and the Gaelic regions. The idea behind the event he says, is for the audience to “Think about all of the different ways of singing and why there are these differences, and to get a sense of the range in which people sing.”
If the term ‘yodel’ conjures up only two images – either a ‘lonely goat herd’ or Johnny Weismuller swinging through the jungle – then this event will challenge you to expand your imagination. The yodelling of Christian Zehnder with its immediacy of phrasing, at once both exclamatory and declamatory, speaks directly to what Orlando finds so captivating about vocal music. As a vocal specialist he says, “You can write pieces that are about things and that deal directly with your experiences in the world.” The work of Greek born Mikhail Karikis reinforces this view by engendering narrative discourse though a mixture of visual and aural genres. His music has been championed by Björk and ‘Le Monde’ once described him as a ‘sonic alchemist.’
The festival will also enable the audience to experiment with their own voices in Dominic Murcott’s ‘Extreme Karaoke.’ Described by Orlando as an ‘aural hall of mirrors’ this is perhaps best suited to the brave… In the evening, the twelve singers will unite for the first time to perform an improvised piece. They will be joined by electronic artist Andrew MacDonnell whose live sampling, looping and other technical wizardry adds further body and magic to this ephemeral choir.
As an Associate Artist of the Royal Opera House, Orlando regards the physical presentation of the performances as integral to the day. He is known as much for his non-conventional use of space as he is for his passion for the human voice. For this festival he has distributed the action between several rooms so that the audience can move between a series of performances. This makes for an immersive event that skips joyfully over the boundaries of the more traditional performance to audience experience. As Orlando says, “Think of it more as a party with amazing turns.”
Voices Across the World takes place at the Royal Opera House, London on 31st July 2011. To find out more click here.
Photograph by Matthews Andrews.