Collectress ~ Different Geographies

We first shared news of the new Collectress album in January, when we listed it as one of our top picks of the season.  This week, it’s finally out!  The female quartet (with guest appearances by a man and a dog) offers an intriguing mix of textures and tones, expanding past the normal boundaries of its genre.  This should come as no surprise to those familiar with the collective’s individual interests, which include dance, sculpture and circus.

The lead video (“In the Streets, In the Fields” showcases the former discipline, as each member is invited to share her own different geography.  Colorful images tumble in fragments and unusual angles; in one segment the dance seems like sign language.  The piece makes reference to a 1937 recording of Virginia Woolf’s “Words,” solidifying the impression that language is more than utterance.

In like manner, Collectress speaks all types of languages, sometimes simultaneously.  One might start to peg the group as purely chamber before encountering the electronic beeps of “Mauswerk.”  The cello need not always be in charge.  The women each etch their own sonic space; even the colors of the three singles and album are different, as if to reflect a quartet of personalities.  And every dog has his day, as Pepo gets to bark some joy into “In the Streets,” sounding almost like a wolf (the overachiever!).

The wordless vocals of “Harbour” are reminiscent of Iceland’s Amiina, another female ensemble. The tone travels between siren and singing mother: danger mixed into safety, like a bedtime story whose center is dangerous but whose ending is benign.  She must shut her eyes and go to sleep and dream of mountains and valleys and stars, the women declare in a later track, revealing one word at a time, not all in order, a further underlining of Woolf’s famous teaching.

The quartet’s fascination with shapes and colors (as seen above) is translated into their music, which honors their name.  Each player is a collectress of timbres, which are introduced at careful interludes throughout the album: flute, piano, Korg, Rhodes, saw.  When their collecting fails, they sculpt their own instruments.  Frequently serious, yet more often playful, the women keep pulling surprises from their hats: a whisper here, a handclap there.  “Landing” is happily percussive and slightly psychedelic, tipping into a sixties-style keyboard at 1:47, the first hint of those circus roots.  A second shift arrives at 3:56 as rubbery bass sprouts from silence; then the first melody returns, curtsies, and begins to dance.  The most accessible track is followed by the least, as “Archive” plays with static, like words trying to break through: an all-too common occurrence in modern conversation.  But Collectress is creative as well as persistent.  As Woolf writes, words are alive: “They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things.”  But as Different Geographies demonstrates, one doesn’t always need words to communicate.  (Richard Allen)

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