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Leo Kupper - Digital Voices
Leo Kupper  - Digital VoicesIt is always a good feeling when you enter a previously unknown musical artist-composer's world and find you can make yourself at home there. That's how I felt after hearing a few times Leo Kupper's Digital Voices (Pogus 21060-2) CD.

There are six works included on the disk, one is a solo santur (hammered zither) piece played by the composer, and it's nicely done. It serves as the mid-point in the program, the rest having a particular singer showcased with electro-acoustics, natural sounds and/or instrumental foundations as a way of expressing the Kupper musical ethos.

The final three works combine live instruments and electro-acoustics to surround and complement the vocal basso richness of Nicholas Isherwood. There is good use of multi-tracking to make of Isherwood's voice a veritable almost Greek-Orthodox-Buddhist-Chant choir at times, only in a modern expanded vein. Bells, chimes and other ring-timbred sounds combine with electronics and vocal melanges in a haunting series of soundscapes.

The opening two works feature vocal performances-collages by Barbara Zanichelli (soprano) and Anna Maria Kieffer (mezzo-soprano), respectively. These pieces are no less interesting but map a (perhaps understandably, given the range) somewhat brighter sonic world.

Think of the now classic Berberian-Berio collaboration "Visage" and you get some idea of the lineage that Kupper's Digital Voices extends out of and innovates within. There are written vocal parts at times which the singers extend with their own vocal elaborations; and abstract vocal expressions that follow guidelines mapped out by the composer. The vocal results are manipulated digitally to various degrees and integrated into the electro-instrumental digital matrix created by Kupper for each work.

"Tour de force" is a critical phrase used perhaps too often these days, but I do not hesitate to use it for Digital Voices. These are landmark works for the most part, a triumph of the human voice holding its own, flourishing in a world of machines and digital automata. Kupper has created a series of works that embody the ultimate triumph of the human spirit over the human-made creations that threaten to envelop and enslave it. Yet Kupper's digital world in no way embodies the impersonality of automata. Rather it is a naturally flowing series of landscapes in sound, all expressing something very human. Beautifully done, enormously enriching, psyche-boosting music. Kupper gives us that and very poetically, too. - Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate

Barbara Zanichelli, soprano; Anna Maria Kieffer, mezzo-soprano; Nicholas Isherwood, bass

Although minutely pre-conceived in the entirety of its parameters, Leo Kupper’s music repudiates the belief in “hyper technology replacing sentience”. On the contrary, an unwavering interior acuity – of performer and listener alike – is imperative in the composer’s attempt to establish what he calls an “internationalization of spirituality”. Digital Voices gathers six compositions, just one being unvoiced. Kupper’s aptitude in conjoining deeply individual subjects with the logical solutions furnished by the studio warrants luminous results all the way through and – at least in a pair of episodes – a rare type of austere disconsolateness.

The program’s initial helping features two cycles of “abstract and articulate” songs performed by the female vocalists. “Aviformes” compounds Barbara Zanichelli’s ductile sharpness with actual and transmuted birdsongs, whereas “Kamana” introduces more tactile components in a mélange defined by Anna Maria Kieffer’s overlapping variations, occasionally recalling Meredith Monk’s flights of fancy. Instead, “Parcours Pour Santur” exploits and transforms the timbral attributes of the Iranian cimbalom in a technically advanced stereophonic reverie, functioning as an intermission of sorts.

If the women are, in this case, the mainstays of Kupper’s view on the nature’s (and, in general, the world’s) ascendancy on acoustic imagination, male vocalism is the kernel of his finest work herein. “Lumière Sans Ombre” presents a hybridization of melodic percussion and computer-processed samples of Slavic liturgical chants upon which Nicholas Isherwood’s inspiriting bass inflection depicts mesmerizing figurations in a made-up idiom (the latter trait typifying all the songs in this set; Kupper rightly believes that intelligible words can hamper the “expression of the inexpressible” as they “camouflage the real perception of sonorities”).

Besides that jewel, pinnacles of veritable grace are also found in “Paroles Sur Lèvres” and “Paroles Sur Langue”, a total of fifteen minutes where short soundless pauses are wisely thrown amidst flashes of affecting incorruptibility; a macrocosm of wavering choirs, vast compasses and grief-stricken mutability. The music’s psychophysical incidence allows us to reach awe-inspiring altitudes, highlighted by the rise and fall of the heartbeat’s rhythm during instants of unembellished enlightenment.

If you read Kupper’s complex yet coherent rationalization of what lies behind these magnificent paradigms of his creativity, marvel at how heartrending the outcome of those intricate processes can be. This writer has listened to the album four times in a few hours; the sense of discovery and the wish of “belonging” are still there, calling him to additional spins. - Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

Leo Küpper (spelled without the umlaut on his Pogus releases) is firmly entrenched within the electroacoustic tradition as can be borne out by his inclusion in several of the Cultures Electroniques compilations from the sadly now defunct GMEB/IMEB. Born in 1935, he worked with fellow Belgian electronic legend Henri Pousseur back in 1962. Küpper's music didn't appear on record until 1971 when Deutsche Grammophon released his amazing "L'enclume des forces" album in their Avant Garde series. Similarly mind blowing was his 1981 LP on the collectable Igloo label featuring the pieces "Kouros et Korê" and "Innominé". All three of these pieces were honorably collected on a Sub Rosa CD in 2003, rescuing them from obscurity, although unfortunately leaving off one of the other pieces no doubt due to lack of space on a single disc. Leo had a second LP on Igloo in 1985 featuring the piece "Amkéa" and "Aérosons" which is where Leo's Pogus disc follow from. "Digital Voices" is Küpper's third CD for Pogus Productions after a space of 13 years. As might be guessed from the title, this disc focuses on pieces of treated vocal sounds. In the five voice based pieces here, Küpper focuses on abstract vocals stating in the enclosed 40 page booklet that intelligible language distracts from hearing the actual sonorities of vocal performance. The comparison to Luciano Berio's groundbreaking "Visage" (1961) immediately comes to my mind and I find it specifically acknowledged by Leo in his notes. These pieces are all much more recent, with the bulk of them composed from 2006 to 2010 and last being from 1993. Each of the vocal pieces features a single performer: Barbara Zanichelli, Nicholas Isherwood, and his frequent collaborator Anna Maria Kieffer. However, that said, both "Paroles Sur Lèvres" (Words on Lips) and "Paroles Sur Langue" (Words on Tongue) don't credit any vocalist. In the middle of these voice pieces is a solo for santur (also spelled santoor by others - a Persian instrument similar to the hammer dulcimer, but much older) performed by the composers himself. It is a spacious and peaceful piece using a great deal of stereo imaging and apparently uses no instrumentalist to play it. Unfortunately exactly how this is done is not made clear in the notes. The opening piece, "Aviformes", combines wordless soprano vocals with bird song in a seven part suite that reminds me of some of the later Jacques Lejuene work in its compositional form. "Kamana" up the prominence of digitally manipulated sounds to combine with the multiple layers, up to seven, of mezzo-soprano vocals and unspecified "instrumental sounds from around the world" but retains the aleatory structure of the previous piece. As alluded to above, the two "Paroles" suites don't focus on a solo vocalist, but seem to work with an unknown choir singer in a deeper register. Following the progression already inherent, the electronics take an even strong prominence here with the vocals seeming to be more of a coloring. That said, it seems likely from the notes that the electronic sounds themselves are in fact highly transformed abstractions of the vocal material no longer recognizable as such. A couple of the sections of "Paroles sur Lèvres" bring in instrumental sounds again and all seem to use a degree of MIDI synthesis yet both contribute in a frenetic manner and avoid melodic or strictly metered forms. The closing "Lumière Sans Ombre" (Light With Shadow) is the logically follow up continuing with a similar compositional approach and sound sources the exception of focusing on Isherwood's bass vocals. The closing piece is the closest to classical tradition with the song based on Slavic liturgical chant. Nevertheless it does retain its otherworldly digital atmosphere through the inclusion of various synthetic sounds. Overall there is a compositional unity among all the pieces on this CD while still allowing each composition to have its distinctive qualities. Unlike other Pogus CD, this disc comes in a cardboard gatefold cover, probably in part due to the inclusion of a thicker than normal booklet. - Eric Lanzillotta, Bixobal

Belgian composer Leo Kupper worked with Henry Pousseur in the first studio of electronic music in Belgium. ‘Digital Voices’, the third release of Kupper for Pogus, came into being in Studio de Recherches in Brussels. As the title suggests, most compositions on this recording deal with the human voice. In the sixth composition the santur is the main instrument. Kupper formulated his intentions for this recording as "to encourage the internationalization of spirituality through a musical language that accepts both sung and instrumental world sonorities that can be mixed with electronic sounds derived from the voices of the singers." ‘Aviformes’ is built up from very recognizable birdsongs. I’m not sure whether this are electronically manipulated field recordings or sounds completely of electronic origin. In that case birdsongs and calls were very accurately transcribed. Soprano Zanichelli dialogues with these abstract songs. The closing piece ‘Light without Shadow’ is based on Slavic liturgical chant. It exemplifies an experience that I had throughout this cd. Namely that I feel emotionally engaged by the singing and not so much by the electronic sounds. It was new to me to experience this duality so strongly. - DM, Vital Weekly
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