Joane Hétu’s La Femme territoire ou 21 fragments d’humus is a multi disciplinary piece dedicated to the female experience; sex, death, loss, and the joy of life itself enjoy aural designation on these 21 tracks. Hétu wrings limitless emotion from a myriad of sources with the help of Susanna Hood, Jean Derome, Isaiah Ceccarelli, and Alice Tougas St-Jak. Voice, accordion, woodwinds, and strings interact with field recordings, electronics, and spectral percussion, which in addition to prose and dance add up to a varied and complex work. Every facet of the piece is informed by an avant garde aesthetic as elements of free jazz, musique concrète, and early electronic composition support a vocal narrative that is an intense world of sound unto itself. The vocalists scream, mumble, whisper, and growl (not to mention actually sing), expressing an incredible range of emotion and timbre, even when the words are free of their literal meaning. I do not speak French, so I am missing an entire dimension of this recording, but it’s quite a rich listening experience regardless.
These diverse elements repeatedly coalesce into sublime vignettes, such as on L’amoureuse, which is a tour de force of vocal gymnastics. Male and female voices advance the limits of human ability beginning with broken, sputtering non-language that closely resembles the bushmen’s chatter from The Gods Must Be Crazy. This particular “fragment” alternates between passages of unison recitation and extended vocal and musical techniques before resolving into a dizzying climax of whispering. Fragment amour saunters in like an elephant on roller skates with alien sounds that could be air escaping a balloon or tape manipulation, followed by sensuous breath and arcing, bent saxophone notes. Nue features interesting moments where unison voices strike harmonies with each other and produce chords that eventually waver in and out of pitch. The song eventually falls into a dissonant refrain before returning to more vocal harmonizing. This CD is remarkable in every way, with an exceptional recording capturing some truly remarkable pieces of sound art. Not to be missed.