Tracery : Lazy, Rocking — Film produced by videographer Angela Guyton, 2018.
The Tracery Project
Tracery is a modular collaboration between composer Cassandra Miller and soprano Juliet Fraser. Resolutely process-led, sessions have explored a form of ‘automatic singing’ in which Juliet attempts a body scan meditation whilst simultaneously listening and responding to, vocally, a piece of source material. Source materials have primarily come from non-notated traditions and were chosen to reveal different immediacies in Juliet’s voice: the first modules take as their starting point two Hardanger fiddle tunes, a movement from Ben Johnston’s eighth string quartet and a song by the British all-female punk rock band The Slits. attending to a task (2018) marks a new direction: this module features Juliet and Cassandra, both engaged in a Deep Listening exercise, the source material for which is a conversation between Robert Ashley and Pauline Oliveros. The project is producing several discrete but related pieces that set out to experiment with a performer’s freedom and vulnerability on stage, rejecting traditional ideas of performativity and ‘singerly-ness’.
At the heart of each Tracery module is a process wherein Juliet performs a body scan meditation while mimicking what she hears in her headphones. Over an afternoon, this process is repeated many times: Juliet’s singing is recorded, layered in a canon, and returned to her for another session of meditating and singing. The repetition of this process allows for an amplification of the relationship between her physical impulses and the music being created. This method necessitates a great deal of discussion and writing about our experiences as performer and as listener, and as a result, the flexible method adapts itself to each unique day. A documentary film about this collaboration has been produced by videographer Angela Guyton. To date, the modules are:
- Tracery : Hardanger (2017; 16’30)
- Tracery : Lazy, Rocking (2017; 8’00)
- Tracery : The Slits (2017; 11’00)
- Tracery : attending to a task (2018; 14’00)
Tracery was commissioned with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, with development time supported by an Open Space residency at Snape Maltings.
First is Tracery: Hardanger, for solo voice and pre-recorded voice. It begins with a repeated, sustained sung tone and, from where I am standing, it is not immediately clear whether it is live or pre-recorded, but soon Juliet Fraser adds live ornamentations around the repeated note: strange, half-strangled ululations, not like any sound I’ve ever heard this wonderful singer make before. Each phrase is the length of a breath, usually with a falling melodic trajectory. Sometimes the live melody anticipates the sustained note, sometimes it follows. We could be listening to the resident singer in the coolest club in town, somewhere high in the Arctic: maybe Norway, maybe Greenland, maybe on the edge of Hudson Bay. After a while the roles reverse. The live singer has the long notes, a tone lower than before, and her prerecorded self weaves more elaborate, almost skittish patterns, less obviously drawn by the gravitational pull of the sustained tone. Then both Juliets are singing melodies, and not so long afterwards the music finishes. It isn’t obvious that the end is coming but it feels right when it happens. It’s as if we have been listening to a great executant of a folk music that didn’t exist until Cassandra Miller and Juliet Fraser got together to create it, but this is undoubtedly how that music is supposed to go, and this is how, unostentatiously but surely, this piece is supposed to finish. It’s a considerable achievement: music that is not so much composed as inhabited.