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Julianna Barwick’s Digital Cathedral

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Filmmaker and Writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Thursday’s performance by Julianna Barwick. Agree […]

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Filmmaker and Writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Thursday’s performance by Julianna Barwick. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Julianna Barwick. Photo: Justin Schell

The Walked kicked off this year’s “Sound Horizon” series, which combines live sound and visual art, with Julianna Barwick, whose overlaid vocal loops turned the Perlman Gallery into a digital cathedral. With Ernesto Neto’s giant, globulous otheranimal suspended above her, and a crowd of people collected around her at the room’s edges, Barwick took full advantage of the gallery space. Over the course of four songs, she wove a pitch-perfect tapestry of sound; as each piece developed, it was nearly impossible to tell what she was doing “live” and what was reverberating around the room as a loop.

I was reminded of both Alvin Lucier and Phill Niblock’s work as I sat on the ground, though her music doesn’t have the more direct lingustic element of Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room or the density of one of Niblock’s microtonal complexes of sound. Rather, Barwick’s “compositions” are incredibly light, with lines of head voice seeming to drift above the often swirling lines of sound beneath. The changing harmonies and interwoven vocal lines (as well as a few piano and guitar lines) were complemented nicely by the slowly changing lights that illuminated both her and the Neto installation, a nice visual tying together of sound and space.

While Barwick’s skill is undeniable—to sing that many parts together, in one take, and through such an immense range, takes an incredible sense of more-than-perfect pitch—the four pieces she chose for her first performance (the only one I saw) lacked any amount of tension or dissonance. Though very meditative and relaxing (even if it seemed to overwhelm the sound system a few times), they all tended to blend together. Perhaps with more time than 30 minutes she would bring in greater harmonic complexity to her set. Regardless, her music certainly was a great start to the Walker’s series exploring the links between sound, space, light, and music.

Sound Horizon continues with Elliot Sharp on April 5 and Colin Stetson on May 10.

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