Saturday, August 16, 2014

Daniel Biro - Shir Hadash

Daniel Biro - Shir Hadash
Sargasso. SCD28076

After weeks in the extraction immersion tank the words ‘a-cappella gospel-influenced voices with transcendent electronics’ didn’t exactly set the pulse racing but then I remembered playing Shir Hadash when it first arrived here [in pre extraction immersion tank days about six months ago now] and thinking that its mixture of resonating harmonies sung in Hebrew coupled to deft electronic nuance was actually much better than its strap line suggested.

So here we are six months down the line and a planned day out from the extraction immersion tank became a week in which I dipped my head into the Shir Hadash bath almost to the point of self annoyance. I became addicted to its close knit harmonies and took it everywhere I went. Mundane journeys became transformed, I was in a world of my own. I was, dear reader, transported.

Performed by three male vocalists of the Elastic Theater Ensemble Shir Hadash is immediately lifted from the mundane by the use of words like ‘shamanic’, ‘trance inducing’, altered state’, ‘spiritual ecstasy’ and in the case of Naggen Bitrua, an offering that wouldn’t look out of place if overdubbed on to the original Omen, ‘demonic’. Perhaps a little something to remind us of the dark side? Biro then treats their voices electronically, which he did live when this piece was performed in 2009 but with soft hands showing his skill as a composer whilst allowing the obvious natural beauty of the voices to reveal themselves. Its only on the last track ‘Chayos’ that Biro allows himself the luxury of cracking his fingers and letting his electronics dominate the proceedings entirely. 

But its the voices that win out. I admit to being a fan of close-knit harmony, be it via the sacred works of Arvo Pärt, the Mike Sammes Singers, the King’s Singers [I’m being serious here by the way] or Gregorian Chant. You can’t beat a bit of group singing [just don’t get me going on barber shop quartets]. So to hear these three male voices of the Elastic Theater Ensemble singing in harmony [in Hebrew remember] has been something of a much needed breath of fresh air for me. It could do the same for you.

The most uplifting moments are on Shir Hadash 2 when the reprise from Shir Hadash 1 is drawn out and extended to include Biro laying on some jazzy Rhodes electronic piano and lengths of low tempo electronic drum washes. The way those voices soar with nothing but a series of closed mouthed ‘hmmms’ is both uplifting and deeply moving. ‘Chayos’ sits at its end with the voices processed beyond recognition into a swirling mass of discord. In-between the harmonies disappear into seas of Biro-twisted discontent [think soundtrack to unsettling nightmare as used by BBC production team]. Its those two Shir Hadash compositions that get me every time though. First as pure a-cappella and then in its ten minute long Biro-tinged incarnation.

Sargasso are doing a fine job of stopping me from getting in to a rut with my musical tastes. I’ve reviewed their releases on these pages before and each time I’ve been impressed, not just by the quality of work on offer, but the way in which they challenge your musical preferences.  


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