By Kaelan Unrau
Later this month, Bünger will perform his multimedia lecture the third man as part of Vancouver’s VOICE OVER mind Festival. Founded in 2010 and hosted by the Western Front, the festival centers around “unusual singers” and “extreme vocalists” of all stripes. Besides Bünger, this year’s lineup includes a classically trained vocalist (Camille Hesketh), a sound poet-turned-instrument maker (Tomomi Adachi), a Jerusalem-born singer and occasional John Zorn collaborator (Ayelet Rose Gottlieb) and a conceptual artist with a soft spot for musical theatre (Petra van der Schoot).
While the VOICE OVER mind Festival wears its experimental predilections on its sleeve, Adachi stresses that the human voice – even at its most extreme – is something that remains inherently accessible. “The voice is a primal instrument for human being,” he says. “Everyone has it and everyone can use it.”
In addition to a solo performance, Adachi will lead a workshop in which intrepid festival goers can learn to unleash their inner vocalists. “The voice gives a large possibility to make music with people who have a wide range of backgrounds,” he says. “And this is a very important aspect for me, because I am interested in working with non-musicians.”
The voice is also unique in its ability to transmit both sound and language. “On the one side, you have voice as an instrument,” van Der Shoot explains. “But if you really use language, it starts a parallel symbolic world next to the stuff you’re doing on stage. In an opera, for instance, you never really [only] hear what people are saying. It has these two worlds – the text-based world and the sound and visual-based world.”
“You can present these images that you can wonder about – what it is or what it refers to. That’s the thing: that images always add to the voice. But if it’s only the voice, then it’s very direct. It’s very much about your emotional reaction to it.”
Location also plays a big role in keeping the festival accessible. “We’re spoiled rotten,” says festival director DB Boyko, “because [the Western Front] is very intimate, the acoustics are pretty damn good and the audience is in arm’s reach of what’s going on.”
“I think that’s a really critical part of what we program. Because if you’re watching something that you’ve never seen before, something that maybe even makes you uncomfortable because you don’t understand what it is, there’s a good chance that you can get up and ask the performer about it right after the performance. The connection – the immediacy – is really important.”
For Bünger, immediacy is the key. As he explains, vocal music – however strange and outlandish – has the capacity to cut right to the soul. “Before words and weapons, there is a way to seduce and move bodies in a certain way,” he says, “and that is through voice and music. It’s also the first technology that each individual encounters in life, because the mother is singing to the fetus. It’s the very first time that you’re able to influence the fetus emotionally.”
The VOICE OVER mind Festival runs from March 18-21 at the Western Front.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include more information.