From X to Z

(originally posted to the C-Opera listserv)

by Barry Drogin

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I am fortunate to be on Pamela Z's mailing list, as I got an invite to a show she put together in Brooklyn, NY last night at NorthSix. The evening promised a second vocalist I didn't know, Amy X Neuberg, so despite the fact that it was raining and, Manhattan snob that I am, it meant a trip to Brooklyn, I persuaded myself to attend, and I'm so glad I did I wanted to write to the list about it.

I know Pamela Z's work from her presentation at NewOp 8 in Montreal, and her appearances in Erling Wold's stuff, but I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of Amy X Neuburg, although she has toured and recorded some Robert Ashley operas and has a host of other credits. Her website, www.isproductions.com/amy, claims that she has only recently gone "Bi", i.e., bi-coastal, so my guilt is somewhat assuaged. She hails from Oakland, California.

Amy uses her voice, drum triggers and live electronic loops to create pre-composed dramatic songs - Saturday night both Amy and Pamela just presented excerpts, a sampler, as it were, from new and old work. Like Pamela and Theo and Kristin, Amy has a repertoire of extended vocal technique (EVT) effects that she integrates into her work - it is so wonderful to see that a new generation of performers is embracing the work from the 60's and 70's that people like Eric developed (I guess Meredith Monk and Laurie Anderson have kept this going strong into the 80's and 90's).

What's different now, and what interests me in particular as I hold on to the "small" in the original NewOp title, "International Meeting of Small Scale Music-Theatre and Opera," is how technology is enabling interesting solo work to be created and performed in small spaces like NorthSix. According to Amy's website, she does not use computers at all during performance, whereas Pamela (and electronic music improviser Ikue Mori, who opened the program playing a duet with Marina Rosenfeld (who I'm pretty sure was using a turntable)) is prominently tied to a laptop screen. When I talked to Amy after the performance, she referred to "the looper community" (I wonder what Pamela's thoughts are on the use of that term), which allows the singer to sing trios and quartets with herself.

It was fascinating to contrast the two of them, back-to-back, in one evening. Pamela Z gets credit for arranging the gig, which included a joint improvisatory session with Pamela, Amy and Ikue at the end. In the works Amy presented, she cops an attitude, and uses humor and gesture. Through her use of the BodySynth (visit her website, www.pamelaz.com, for details), Pamela has naturally developed a more dancerly style, and some of her work, such as "Other" from "Gaijin," contain strong public commentary. Pamela has integrated Japanese into her work, and, from a sample on Amy's website, I know that she's used Yiddish. Amy's found a device that makes her sound as if she is on the telephone, and did a wonderful duet with herself. Her "My God" used a 1609 canon as backdrop to a clever grappling with religion (she's tired of people using an "e" instead of a "u" at the end of "Neuburg," but if she calls herself "Amy X" she thinks people will think she's a Muslim).

Amy's work feels more like dramatic songs, whereas Pamela is further along into integrating pieces into an evening long show, which Amy has only attempted once. Despite obvious similarities to each other and to others, it was much more interesting to see how their unique, strong personalities, sensibilities and techniques differ from each other. Both are fantastic vocalists, and although both Pamela Z and Amy X Neuburg have performed in other people's work, I think they both deserve significant recognition as composers and creators of new music-theatre as well, and I urge others on the c-opera list to check out their websites, get on their mailing lists, and, especially, experience their work in person if you get a chance.

Note: You can hear an excerpt from a single track and two tracks from CDs available on Amazon.com. Pamela Z's first solo album is also available on Amazon.com, but with no tracks to listen to as of this writing. You can also hear some of her music on her website. The same is true of Amy X Neuberg's website.

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007