Saturday, November 10, 2018

Audrey Chen “Runt Vigor” (Karlrecords, 2018)

Two years ago I wrote a long article for this blog in which I was postulating how necessary it was, for the good of improvised music, to have artists who are female and non-European, in order to have new inputs and develop new languages. Now, it is as my prayers have been listened by some god or similia.

Audrey Chen is a young contemporary artist. Born in 1976 outside of Chicago, she is a 2nd generation Chinese/Taiwanese-American musician. She started playing cello at age 8, and voice at 11. Originally trained in classical music, she started since 2003 to develop her own music and her own style, very far from consolidated clichés.

Typical of her generation of improvisers/contemporary musicians, Chen developed a great number of collaborations: with Phil Minton (voice), Henrik Munkeby Norstebo (trombone), Doron Sadja (electronics), Richard Scott (modular synthesizer), Joke Lanz (turntables), and Maria Chavez (turntables) among the others.

The goal of being often hand-in-hand with other, different, musicians and disciplines is to develop your own language and nuances while answering to different incitements, which is different from developing your style alone.

But on this Runt Vigor, issued only on 180 gr vynil and digital, we can finally appreciate Audrey Chen in an intense solo performance: a vocal solo track at the beginning, then assisted by analog electronics and, finally, her cello.

Chen use of voice is different from the 'classical' avant-garde ladies like Joan La Barbara and Meredith Monk: no melody or narration implied, only destructured microtones, and sometimes some syllables. The cello is bashed and rubbed – not only the strings, but also the body – and the electronics are treated consequently.

Sometimes, listening to this record, I asked myself is Chen has a feminine (meaning: new) quality in her music. Difficult to answer, since the avant-garde isn't rooted in sex like rock music and so is a-gendered – unless you are Cecil Taylor. But for sure this music is something unheard before, a new wave, something necessary. Hope to find something similar in the near future. For the moment, my strong advice is to enjoy Audrey Chen.

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