Olga Bell: Origin/Outcome
Angel Deradoorian setlist
Olga Bell, Krai setlist
Liquid Music Series Schedule
03/21/14-03/22/14 Timo Andres: Work Songs
05/06/14 Daniel Bjarnason and Nadia Sirota
06/03/14 Ethel: Documerica
The word Krai in Russian refers to the “edge, brink, border, or frontier”, and that is what Dirty Projectors member Olga Bell chose to sonically interpret, as the world premiere of Bell’s nine-song cycle was performed last week at the Walker Art Center, as part of the continuing Liquid Music Series, which is co-presented with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the American Composers Forum.
Deradoorian & Bell
Eschewing selections from her 2009 EP, Mind Raft (Love Pump United), the vocalist/keyboardist instead unveiled lush new works that brought both a modern sound, and tip of the hat to the traditional folk base of her family’s culture, with Bell leading the background vocalists in Kate Bush-like siren hums and wails. The soothing closer, ‘Violet Minded’, with steady but slow percussion, crept quietly then transformed into a revved-up crescendo, to end the set with flourish.
After a brief intermission, the ensemble re-appeared, with Bell taking over the lead role, to debut the 45 min. sonic love letter to her Russian homeland, backed by the sweeping, sometimes fragmented visuals of artist Alejandro Crawford (who has previously worked with MGMT).
The entire performance, deemed Origin/Outcome meant to celebrate the “human vernacular- the music to which we dance, eat, grieve and live”, and was inspired by the country where Moscow-born Bell spent her early childhood.
Considered a mosaic of impressions rather than any political or music-ethnographic statement, each song in the cycle takes geographic inspiration from Russia’s nine regional frontiers. The divergent accompanying visuals both gave the audience a look into life there, and enhanced the performed live soundtrack.
Entirely sung in Russian, it was sometimes difficult to truly understand Bell’s vision during the performance, and while there was a translation printed in the program, it was dark enough in the hushed theater, that following along was not a possibility.
Drawing on Russian folk traditions and the modern indie-pop that bands like her Dirty Projectors favor, the past/present dichotomy was best served in second movement, ‘Altai Krai’, which featured a drone-like, low throat-singing vocal.
Bell even collaborated with her mother (who was in the audience) on a few songs, including ‘Perm Krai’, lyrics taken from a traditional Cossack ballad amidst some manic drumming and soaring background vocals, including Deradoorian’s.
The audience was in rapt attention throughout, and respectful of the performers, staying silent except for the occasional sneeze or cough. The acoustics in the venerable McGuire Theater were perfectly suited to the performance, the room crisp enough to hear even the slight clink of Bell’s metal water bottle as she set it down between songs.
Stage lighting was kept to a minimum, putting the attention on the screen visuals and ensemble as a whole, rather than particular details.
London multi-instrumentalist Tom Vek, who collaborates with Bell in the side-project, Nothankyou, was initially scheduled to perform as well, but unfortunately was unable to make it, and would have no doubt, rounded out the compositions even more.
Closing pieces ‘Khabarovsk Krai’ and ‘Kamchatka Krai’ were also steeped in traditional themes with a modern sensibility; the former beginning with a raw door knocking-like percussion to be followed by a pulsing electronic beat, the latter more folkish and indigenous sounding with its low singing style and sometimes disjointed vocal and percussive elements.
While the piece might have been better served as a continuous performance with better transitions and electronic percussion slightly dialed down in the live mix, it did bring a taste of the Russian hinterlands into a Minnesota audience that can definitely relate to any harsh and cold elements.
Engaging, sonically interesting, and knocking down boundaries associated with traditional classical music, score another win for the Liquid Music Series.
Olga Bell at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (13 Feb 2014)