Julie Tippetts was, of course, Julie Driscoll, a
breathtakingly gifted 60s rock-soul-jazz singer and 'the face of 1968'.
Famously, she turned her back on the world of the pop song and has performed
under her newer name mainly working with her husband, the pianist-composer
Keith Tippett, as a free improvising singer. I wouldn't repeat this
(simplified) story of her metamorphosis if it weren't for the fact that Serpentine
wriggles back into the world of the song.
She approaches this with undiminished verve, with a bluesy inflection in her
phrasing, and with harmonic and multivoiced overdubs, but with all the
additional wisdom of decades of musical experimentation and with an
impressive arsenal of accumulated vocal techniques that she uses sparingly
but effectively behind, between and beyond her singing (and speaking) voice.
It's simply great to hear a great singer singing (and her voice is still great, as pure as it needs
to be, as grainy or wavering as necessity dictates). She has also written the
lyrics and much of the music with Martin Archer. Archer provides electronic
music, harmonious and dissonant by turns, augmented with others' floating
flutes, full-on electric jazz rock guitar, rattling snare, occasional pulsing
bass and a tense string section on a couple of tracks. Tippetts plays
'amplified doll's house' but I've not worked out which of the miscellaneous
rattling and scratching sounds this might have provided.
Martin Archer is also co-director with the poet Alan
Halsey of the 40 strong Sheffield anti-choir Juxtavoices. They're well-named:
a mixture of singers and non-singers (and poets), they perform vocal compositions
and improvisations that range from spoken word, through to the choral (as in
a Greek dramatic chorus), voice works through to chants, and songs through to
the choral (in the musical sense). They play trained voices against
untrained, male against female, hiss against yell, whisper against scream,
voice against voices, words against sound, melody against noise. On their
first CD, treatments by Archer, Halsey and others in the group, range from
sound poetry (a fine multivoiced and probably largely improvised version of
Bob Cobbing's 'Are Your Children Safe in the Sea?') to composed and
tightly-scored spoken word pieces (such as the setting of a Beckett poem).
Five members of the choir - Archer, Halsey, Christine Kennedy, Geraldine Monk
and Bo Meson - provide some of the longer tracks (several up to 14 minutes),
which are of especial interest, because they have been devised specifically
for the group dynamic. What is unique and innovative about the (anti-)choir
is the sheer variety of approaches to the voice taken here (with semantic,
music, sound poetry and the occasional electronic manipulations taking
second, third or fourth places to that variously). What strikes me as
original is that this ensemble doesn't sound like any other I've heard.