Jessica Aszodi ~ Prayer for Nil

The extremes of an instrument such as the voice have been relatively less explored than those of most others that do not potentially involve, well, ruining a part of the self and the body. Thankfully, experimentalists such as Jessica Aszodi are more than willing to take that risk, in the course of an adventure which comes to show us listeners (in the safety of our headphones or speakers) the flesh-and-bone vibrations of the sounds our throats are capable of. In other words, the most divinized of instruments, abstracted in its cultural associations with an idealized elevation, is brought down from the heavens in a resounding crash that ties it directly to the earthly materiality of a cough, of a gasp, of a beautifully rasping change in tonality. Accompanied by electronics, Aszodi audibly plunges herself into some serious strain, granting her voice with a physicality that conventional singers almost always prefer to hide, in the sense that, paradoxically, the perfect song aspires to have no body.

The cover and the series of visual works depicted in the album are an important component of that idea, since those artworks by Assaf Evron intended to give the theory of color spaces a concrete shape. Usually in the form of digital visualizations, color spaces are basically a mathematical way of very, very precisely tracing color combinations and their myriad aspects; the untitled work pictured in Prayer for Nil’s cover is the result of manually creating such a space, a polygon whose multiplicity allows for many different viewings, every perspective a different shape. Still, every shift in perspective also offers a unique view, a conceivable whole. The voice functions similarly inasmuch as its shape is that of the person’s body, its space an interaction of all possible ranges and sounds corporealized in humans, grounded upon a tense relationship between biology and culture.

With the electronic accompaniment, this relationship is pushed to an extreme in which ‘the natural’ is subjected to violent transformations that turn the analog into digital and viceversa, and that in dialogue with a voice that shapeshifts from the idealized ‘naturality’ of melody to the materialized naturality of growls and blowing, comes to decidedly blur the distinction. The tension is perhaps most clear in the transition from the almost conventionally pretty title track into the aggressive (composed by Anthony Pateras), snarling “[ja] maser” (by Alexander Garsden): the first plays with disembodiment by inserting the voice into the electronics and letting it flow in and out of drones, like a sacred song that grows horizontally instead of vertically; the second pulls even further downwards into the realm of the animal, that unseemly, indecent aspect of humanity here vindicated from its cultural negation (and negativity) and let free to truly embody expressions.

“The Fabric of Wind” (by James Rushford) and “Mechanical Bride” (by Jeanette Little) provide even more close intertwinement between the voice and electronics, with noisy feedback created by breathing on a microphone easily passing for an experimental machine sound in the case of the earlier, the singer becoming like a machine herself in the latter by means of a jagged, broken structure proper to the precisely awkward movements of robots. The mechanical bride sings with the voice of an angel, her body full of soft raspy whispers and glissando screams that mark the essentially disturbing nature of the perfect biological construct, the violence of its subjection bellowing from beneath the skin. Aszodi’s low-tone laugh-like sounds close the album with a bang: with it, with her, we slip into the joyous animality at the heart of the history of noise, a revolting passion that sees in the perfection of heavenly songs a most ridiculous swindle. (David Murrieta)

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