Odeya Nini is an experimental vocalist and composer. At the locus of her interests are textural harmony, gesture, tonal animation, and the illumination of minute sounds, in works spanning chamber music to vocal pieces and collages of musique concrète. Her solo vocal work extends the dimension and expression of the voice and body, creating a sonic and physical panorama of silence to noise and tenderness to grandeur. Odeya’s work has been presented Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, Odessa, Mongolia and Vietnam.
This Friday, Odeya performs music from A Solo Voice, an investigation of extended vocal techniques, resonance and pure expression, exploring the relationship between mind and body and the various landscapes it can yield. The work is a series of malleable compositions and improvisations that include field recordings and theatrical elements, aiming to disassociate the voice from its traditional attributes and create a new logic of song that is not only heard but seen through movement. We caught up with Odeya to discuss her work.
First up, what’s on the show at Human Resources this week?
Yes, the show this Friday is a double bill with members of the Southland Ensemble – they will be performing works by Cassia Streb, Eric KM Clark, Manfred Werder and Taku Sugimoto. I will be performing a 40 minute set of solo vocal compositions and improvisation with movement and theatrical elements I call A Solo Voice. This work has evolved over the last 4 years, always morphing, into something new under the same title. In this iteration I include some pieces from my albumVougheauxyice (Voice) which was released exactly a year ago.
Your music as a vocalist deals with the body in a very direct way. While of course most singers are aware that their body is their instrument, you take it farther with the voice and movement workshops, voice bath meditations, and incorporating yoga, movement, and your whole body into your work. Did those interests (voice and the body) develop separately and you’ve found a way to combine them over time, or were they always intertwined for you?
My path and intentions as a vocalist began in a very different place from where they are now. I began as a theater major in high school singing in musicals, followed by a life as a singer songwriter performing around NY with my guitar, which led me to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary music where I later discovered free jazz and new music. During those years of song singing I was always challenged by my voice. I didn’t have enough air, I was told my vocal chords didn’t close completely while I sang, I wouldn’t be able to hit certain notes comfortably and phrased the way the song asked for. There were numerous things I was dealing with vocally. When I started free improvising I began to find my comfort zone by realizing that I could make any sound by changing the shape of my mouth, that I could dictate my own rhythm and phrasing, and let my singing be dictated by my body, senses, and pure expression. It was during that time that I began to feel I could own my voice and discovered it in new ways.
My journey as a yoga teacher developed during this time as well, except I was in search of different things to strengthen and heal, which kept the two worlds separate. It took about 5 years for me to integrate yoga and music, and although I felt a profound growth in both of them, I still didn’t quite connect that music was completely in the body. As a vocalist you cannot separate the body from the voice, they are interconnected from your heels to your finger tips to the crown of your head and of course to your emotions and imaginations. After years of developing this understanding and finding a new way of vocalizing that was truly a full body experience I began to share this with others. The workshops and lessons I teach often take on a therapeutic nature, since one really needs to peel layers, release, find strength, meditate, and have deep awareness towards an inner and outer self to be able to work this incredible instrument. We all have the potential to allow our voice to reveal things to us and others and I am trying to spread that good vibration in my way.
Your identify as both vocalist and composer. I’ve heard a bit of your chamber music, and seen you perform, and it seems like your music is very different depending on which of those contexts it’s for.
It’s true that my instrumental music is different from my vocal music. A main difference is that I write vocal music only for my own voice, and instrumental music only for others. Another main difference is that you can jump and roll on the ground while singing, but you can’t quite do that with an instrument. My vocal work has a strong performative practice. I write for my body and voice and for the tension that is held when I look into the audience’s eyes, its a completely different quality of communication. There is also an inherent drama in the voice: it’s human, and shares a collective history with every other person. My instrumental music is a world that is already in interaction with itself, in harmony, inviting the audience to enter and travel as another layer of the tapestry. Chamber music is for an audience to lose themselves in while solo voice is for them to see themselves as.
I am currently working on a piece that brings both those worlds together, which I began during a residency at the Banff Centre in February.
And when you write for your own voice, how do you balance improvisation and being-in-the-moment-and-space against pre-composed material? Is that assumed divide even a useful way of approaching your work?
The balance is very organic, and actually where I feel that yoga really comes in to my experimental contemporary work. At jazz school they taught us that improvisation is composition in real time. When you are in a state of commitment and focus, a flood of very clear ideas that flow from one to the next come through intuitively. I think a lot about the pieces I write, I spend a lot of time writing text about them, their meaning, why and how I am performing them. I have some pieces that are graphically written movement to movement, and some that are words, descriptions and concepts. Before a performance I usually meditate for a while, I meditate on my day, on where I am on what I want to express and perform those piece from that point. I let everything channel through me organically. Its funny but when I perform for artists, dancers, and other non musicians, some of the first comments are – “you’re so brave”. With classical musicians it’s usually – “How much of that was improvised?” When they discover in disbelief that it was about 80 percent, that’s when I start gaining their respect 🙂
What are you working on now? What’s coming up after this show?
I did a lot of traveling in the last few months performing A Solo Voice, so I feel I am at a brewing point. I just want to settle and let new inspiration come though. With that said, I am working on this piece for voice and chamber ensemble, a monodrama of sorts, I also have some shows in Europe in June and I am performing and composing music for a new theater piece which is based on a traditional Korean Shaman ceremony which will be presented in August.
Full details on Odeya’s concert at Human Resources are up at facebook.com/events/1586249551630860. Her debut album, Vougheauxyice, for solo voice, was released in April of 2014 and is available at odeyanini.com.