Compared to that of instrumentalists, the artistry of vocalists in experimental music are often more complicated to grasp. The human voice, after all, has many more connections and lines of influence than, say, a saxophone. The voice connects us to all the world's languages and literature. Singers like Shelley Hirsch reveal the connections of the voice to other spoken arts like theater. Vocalists like Phil Minton and Yamatsuka Eye can invoke the world of cartoons and the extremes of rock music.
Such influences certainly have a bearing on Jaap Blonk's work. But perhaps the most important factor in grasping his work is the impact of Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters was a German artist of the early 20th century known primarily for his collages. Schwitters' sound poetry, though, is what profoundly influenced Jaap Blonk's development as a vocalist (visit Blonk's website for his hilarious description of performing Schwitters' at punk rock shows).
Sound poetry is written for vocal performance. It focuses on the sound of words (and often invented or nonsense words) rather than on their meaning. However, in light of the cultural baggage that comes with the human voice, the exploration of its sounds tends to be much more pregnant with meaning.
The sound poetry tradition is embedded in "Keynote Dialogues." For example, Blonk notes about the title track, that its "texts [were] generated from the word 'puhkterg' in my invented 'GeenKrimpian' language, pronounced like Dutch." If you were to listen to this piece without knowing this, or without knowing the intent of sound poetry, you might feel that you were missing out. The piece begins with processed voices intoning in Blonk's language, alternating with abstract keyboard runs and experimental electronic sounds. The listener might wonder whether the "words" also had meaning, rather than serving primarily as exercises in sound exploration. But the piece works pretty well either way.
The title track, and much of the album, is very much a product of the studio, as opposed to an approximation of live performance. The vocals are often multitracked. Blonk contracts and stretches time by changing the rapidity of the vocal tracks. However, besides the speed manipulation, most of the "special effects" seem to be Blonk's own virtuosic control of his vocal instrument. He exploits every aspect of it, from the usual productions of the vocal cords, to the air that moves through the mouth, to the sounds of the skin itself.
The track "Buitenboordspuug," Blonk, is a "multitrack mouth piece, using my 'cheek synthesizer' techniques." By this, Blonk seems to indicate the use of the unvoiced vibrating cheeks to produce oscillations. They do sound somewhat like analog synths at times. But perhaps the largest import of pieces like this is that they illustrate the evocative power of mouth and vocal sounds. The elements of silliness in these sounds may be impossible to ignore. Blonk seems to cultivate these comedic aspects in concerts and in the persona he projects in press materials.
There are several tracks on the album featuring Blonk playing unaccompanied keyboard and/or electronic instruments: "Featherwater River," "Daysyways," "Lone Sphere," and "Hibercanon." These seemed somewhat odd choices for the album. Blonk is at his most interesting as an artist when vocalizing, so these more conservative instrumental interludes may seem like tracks to skip on subsequent listens. That's too bad, because the album features some awe-inspiring pieces. The short tracks "AA 60" and "Rage rage" are probably like nothing you have heard: haunting collages of vocal intensity and insanity that defy description. Another great track is "Gramm." On this multi-track all-vocal track, Blonk brings out his full bag of tracks to create a choir of growling, squeaking, buzzing, ululating, shrieking crazies. A whole album of that kind of stuff would have been fantastic.
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