Marianne Schuppe

Marianne Schuppe - slow songs, photo of deer in a field by James Thompson

slow songs

Marianne Schuppe is a singer known for her own compositions, as well as interpretations of works by Morton Feldman and Giacinto Scelsi. It’s her own pieces that comprises this new release from Edition Wandelweiser, eleven short tracks for voice, lute and e-bows. The lute is played exclusively by e-bowing, creating long, extended notes that gradually fade in and out. For much of the time, however, the lute is absent, and Schuppe’s voice is presented unaccompanied. This creates a sparse, open atmosphere that reminds me in some ways of Sylvain Chauveau’s excellent album “Kogetsudai”, though here it is even more rarefied and takes on something of a folksy tone in the shape of its melodies. It’s this sparseness that perhaps gives rise to the adjective ‘slow’ in the album’s title: the tempos of some songs are actually quite moderate, but the sparse arrangement makes them seem to happen slowly.

One might think that without the harmonic interactions and interferences happening between multiple simultaneous notes and their overtones, an a capella vocal line would tend to fall back on the single note as its basic founding unit — notes arranged into melodies arranged into songs. But there are many notes on “slow songs” that are broken down such that their internal parts become audibly distinguishable: from the variable attack (or suddenness) of the note, to its vibrato, dynamics, decay, and even the brush sweep of sibilance as it fades, which here becomes musical material rather than unwanted artefact. This ability to hear inside the note is partly assisted by the e-bowed lute’s subtle effects, but it’s mostly due to Schuppe’s talents as a singer, to her ability to control every aspect of her voice’s sounding while retaining a sense of naturalness and musical flow across a melody. The richness and detail that other artists appearing on Wandelweiser achieve with complex harmony is here achieved with a single note. This can clearly be heard by comparing the two versions of the songs ‘key’ and ‘pretty ride’: while the two versions are in different keys, the insides of the notes are also a whole different story.

The richness and detail of individual notes sometimes obscures the other key aspect of the songs, namely the lyrics. I found many of the words unintelligible, passing by in a blur or murmured below the level of comprehension. This made the few phrases I did manage to pick out seem all the more enigmatic and intriguing: mentions of freckles and computers and foreign languages and seeing a deer in a field. “slow songs” has the surface of an a capella folk album, but much more careful attention is paid to the qualities of individual sounds than in more conventional work, where the sounds are often merely carriers for semantic meaning and performed emotion. Here, each note feels like a new event, a twig snapping or an animal darting through the undergrowth. This is great work from Schuppe, and it’s nice to hear Edition Wandelweiser continue to branch out into new directions.

Image: Deer in the field by James Thompson (light cropping), Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

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