In the early 80s, performance artist Anna Homler crossed paths with avant-garde composer Steve Moshier, and this collaboration was the result. Moshier took recordings of Homler’s wordless vocalizations and conceived other parts to accompany them, sometimes percussive, sometimes droning and ambient, always fitting with whatever she did. Some of the pieces, like “Ee Chê,”feature rhythmic chanting of invented syllables that sound as if they might be words in some unknown language; others, such as
the lengthy “Sirens,” consist of swoops, groans, crackles and other “non-musical” vocal noises. Moshier pairs themsympathetically, with “Ee Chê” presenting processed percussion with a relentless beat, and “Sirens” consisting of long synthesizer tones fading in and out. Each of the tracks has its own identity and sound. When it comes to abstract vocalizing (or whatever term you choose to cover Homler’s type of singing), there is a great danger of creating sounds that are very harsh and likely to repel many listeners (I’m thinking of performers like Diamanda Galás), and while Breadwoman is not for everyone, Homler never
comes off as abrasive. This music represents a middle point in performance art music – not as poppish as most of Laurie Anderson’s work (and certainly more abstract, given the lack of words), not as difficult as Galás. As such, it works admirably as its own thing, a creative vision of an alternative way of creating music outside the conventions of typical songcraft. And it’s also a rather enjoyable listen.
Breadwoman & Other Tales is a recently-released CD on the RVNG Intl label featuring the music of Anna Homler and Steve Moshier. Breadwoman is the persona adopted by vocalist Homler and the liner notes describe her as follows: “Breadwoman is a guide, a storyteller and an observer of human events. She communicates with gestures and songs in a language that is both mysterious and familiar. Breadwoman is so very old that she stands outside of time. Her territory is that of the interior, where there are no distinctions and all things are whole.”
Although the CD was released in February 2016, the music dates from the early 1980s Los Angeles new music scene. Anna Homler was deeply involved in performance art and recorded the vocalizing that ultimately became Breadwoman as she drove around town in her car. At the same time Steve Moshier was a percussionist with the Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra, often performing at the same experimental dance and theater venues where Homler appeared. Their collaboration was natural, with Anna supplying her cassette recordings to Moshier, who created the electronic accompaniment. The process was iterative – the vocals evolving as each version of the electronics was realized. This was a complex and time-consuming undertaking given the technology of the time – Moshier was working with a Kurzweil K2000 synthesizer, a Prophet analog synth, a Sequential Circuits sequencer along with 2-track and 4-track tapes.
The resulting tracks on Breadwoman & Other Tales are remarkable for their convincing insight and invocation of primal music. None of the vocal lines are heard in English but are rather spoken in some unknown ancient tongue, perhaps Eastern European in origin. The melody lines are clear and precisely sung by Ms. Homler, and the strange accents and words persuasively evoke life in a small village thousands of years ago. Moshier’s electronic accompaniment is completely contemporary and, by comparison, futuristic. This makes for an engaging balance – the timeworn words and melodies offset by analog electronic tones, adding to the mysterious and mystical feel in all these pieces.
Even without comprehensible words or context, the songs are recognizable for the human emotions they express. Anna Homler studied anthropology as an undergraduate at UCLA and the daily ebb and flow of primal society fills each of these pieces. Gu She’ Na’ Di, track 3, could be a folk melody about new love – full of optimism and hope – with a clarinet line that compliments the singing perfectly. Giyah on track 4, however, is solemn and deliberate, sung mostly in the lower registers, as if some sad event in village history is being recounted. Sirens, on track 6, is full of deep electronic tones and a menacing, predatory growl that invites fear and panic – reminding us that primal existence is precarious, full of uncertainty and danger.
Oo Nu Dah, track 2, has a mysterious pulsating in the electronics with a slightly alien feel as a faint voice comes to the top of the texture, chant-like, in a prayer of supplication. The melody becomes layered – perhaps a proto-canon – and it is as if we are witness to the origins of devotional worship. Celestial Ash, the final track, takes this to the collective level in a cloud of quiet whispers as a distant electronic humming sound emerges, building in volume – as if the sun is rising on the assembled. Voices are heard in short phrases and the electronics evoke a dignified alien presence. A melodic recap of the opening is sung – the language sounds vaguely Celtic – and we could be present at the annual gathering at Stonehenge 4000 years ago.
Breadwoman & Other Tales takes us back to a time when life was highly spiritual and lived in the moment. This CD reminds us that our brains are hardwired for the primal life, and we still respond to its ancient rhythms and sensibility.
ALBUM REVIEW: ANNA HOMLER / STEVE MOSHIER – BREADWOMAN &
OTHER TALES by Will Pearson
Brooklyn label RVNG continues its program of idiosyncratic and avant-garde releases with this reissue of
Anna Homler and Steve Moshier’s 1985 foray into imagined myth, invented language and ambient
electronica. Even by RVNG’s standards, Breadwoman and Other Tales is weird. This music sounds not just
like it’s been unearthed from another time, but from outside of time altogether.
Homler (a performance artist) met Moshier (an avant-garde musician) in L.A.’s underground gallery culture in the early ’80s. She had already developed the character of Breadwoman, “a woman so old she’s turned to bread,” and a form of extra-linguistic incantation and chant that she’d been recording onto cassette. She gave the cassettes to Moshier, who composed ambient soundscapes to accompany them using 2-track and 4-track tape recorders, synths, effects and a sequencer.
The result is a record that feels meaningful despite its nonsensical language, which doesn’t sound dated in the least, neither sonically nor stylistically. “Oo Nu Dah” is an early highlight, and finds Moshier looping and multi-tracking Homler’s voice into Reich-like echoes that produce unnerving harmonies. “Sirens” is a terrifying excursion into the primordial, with Homler delivering inhuman squeaks, squeals and groans that evoke both birth and death.
If you’re looking for a record to give your bohemian wine tasting an air of inscrutable sophistication, this record will do the trick, but it’s better than that; it demands and deserves a quiet concentration in order for its transcendental ambitions to flourish. (RVNG Intl.)
ALBUM REVIEW: ANNA HOMLER / STEVE MOSHIER –
BREADWOMAN & OTHER TALES
Spellbinding transmission from the esoteric melting pot of early ’80s L.A.; an expanded reissue of the eponymous debut release by Anna Homler & Steve Moshier’s sound art duo, Breadwoman, including two
bonus, previously unreleased pieces.
First kneaded in 1982 by performance artist Anna Homler, Breadwoman arose as a “being who exists outside of time”, intersecting various strands of L.A.’s art scene – gallery culture, DIY avant-garde, meaning-making mysticism – with a combination of gauzy electronics, glossolalic vocalese, and a costume made out of bread.
You can certainly colour us beguiled at Breadwoman & Other Tales, presenting the original tape’s alien song cycle – from the primordial shuffle and curiously Japanese-sounding vocalese of Ee Chê, thru the floating prisms of Oo Nu Dah, to the Rashad Becker-esque electronics of Giyah and kosmiche crème of Yesh’ Te – whilst the two bonus tracks angle far, far-out into stunning cinematic abstraction sounding like Helge Sten scoring a Lynch flick with the 12 minute Sirens, whereas Celestial Ash scries a precedent to everything from Enya and Julia Holter to Anna Caragnano & Donato Dozzy’s Sintetizzatrice.
Can easily predict this becoming an end-of-year favourite. Recommended!
ALBUM REVIEW: ANNA HOMLER / STEVE MOSHIER –
BREADWOMAN & OTHER TALES
In the early 80s, performance artist Anna Homler crossed paths with avant-garde composer Steve Moshier,
and this collaboration was the result.
Moshier took recordings of Homler’s wordless vocalizations and conceived other parts to accompany them, sometimes percussive, sometimes droning and ambient, always fitting with whatever she did. Some of the pieces, like “Ee Chê,” feature rhythmic chanting of invented syllables that sound as if they might be words in some unknown language; others, such as the lengthy “Sirens,” consist of swoops, groans, crackles and other “non-musical” vocal noises. Moshier pairs them sympathetically, with “Ee Chê” presenting processed percussion with a relentless beat, and “Sirens” consisting of long synthesizer tones fading in and out.
Each of the tracks has its own identity and sound. When it comes to abstract vocalizing (or whatever term you choose to cover Homler’s type of singing), there is a great danger of creating sounds that are very harsh and likely to repel many listeners, and while Breadwoman is not for everyone, Homler never comes off as abrasive.
This music represents a middle point in performance art music – not as poppish as most of Laurie Anderson’s work (and certainly more abstract, given the lack of words), not as difficult as Galás. As such, it works admirably as its own thing, a creative vision of an alternative way of creating music outside the conventions of typical songcraft. And it’s also a rather enjoyable listen.
March 15, 2016
The genesis of Breadwoman stretches back to the early ’80s, when performance artist Anna Homler found herself singing while driving through Topanga Canyon, chanting out in a strange, rhythmic cadence.
Homler’s melodies weren’t from any language she recognized, but felt like more than just absentminded moans or nonsensical babbles to her. “I still remember the moment,” Homler says via the telephone. “It was a
language I didn’t know but it was musical and melodic.”
Breadwoman & Other Tales has the feel of freshly resurfaced collected recordings from a forgotten tribe. It is in fact the organic collaboration between Anna Homler and Steve Moshier.
In her artistic practice, Anna Homler approaches visual arts, performance and sound art. In 1982, she assumes the role of Breadwoman and documents her magical speech in the form of rhythmic, melodic sound. The Breadwoman character is outlined as being so old she turned into bread. By positioning herself outside the space or time linearity, it is almost impossible to contextualize her. The project was subjected to a musical dimension when Steve Moshier joined in, complementing the recordings by composing, mixing and engineering the music.
Breadwoman & Other Tales is, dare I say, so much more than a musical project. How can such a fundamental need – that of singing or producing sounds – have such a modern approach to it? I think the answer here is its forward-thinking interdisciplinarity. The LP inhabits the skin of an intricate art project that enmeshes artistic mediums such as performance, photography and music, while investigating language and its systems.
Anna Homler tackles language by inventing a new one, completely displacing its conventional structuralism and meaning. Just by the simple act of opening her mouth and modulating the flow of air being expelled from her lungs, she delivers a plethora of haunting sounds, seemingly impossible to discern, far from any language known to us.
The sounds she produces indeed suggest a vocal construct akin to the wisdom of an old woman and the naïveté of a little girl at the same time. If you really feel the need to pinpoint it, it could resemble shamanic rituals, with their inherent primal and earthy qualities. This invented language reaches such a level of musicality that it is easy to blur the fringe of contact between music and language. Roland Barthes underlined this idea in his series of interviews called The Grain of Voice. He argued that this very precise space, the encounter between a language and a voice, which he calls “the grain of the voice”, occurs when the latter is in a dual posture, a dual production – of language and of music.
Steve Moshier manages to give birth to some sort of ritualistic mythical electronica, powerful yet subtle, so as to not drown Breadwoman’s enthralling melodies. He uses her voice as a sonic element, interweaving its meshes with the warmth of analog sounds.
The sixth piece, Sirens, stood out to me the most. It is engulfed in a reverberating primordial screech, reminiscing of the eerie sounds the sirens use to lure sailors into certain death. The effect of this one is disarming. I will let you discover by yourself the rest of the pieces. This is a unique musical journey into thought, to be carefully listened in its entirety.