Episode 10: Malfunctionlieder
Welcome to PRESS PLAY, our recurring web series featuring exclusive performances of extraordinary solos and duos recorded in high quality at the Canadian Music Centre in Toronto. Each jam-packed episode includes intimate and informative conversation on the how and why behind the music with the artists themselves.
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Episode 10: Malfunctionlieder
May 20, 2021, 7pm
Malfunctionlieder (2017) 12’
Nicole Lizée (CA), composer
Maeve Palmer (CA), soprano
Joy Lee (CA), piano
Bekah Simms (CA), co-curator
In this episode of PRESS PLAY, we feature Malfunctionlieder by Nicole Lizée. This truly captivating work pairs a duo of soprano Maeve Palmer and pianist Joy Lee with video. As you will see the result is an incredibly virtuosic work fully saturated in new technologies based in borrowed ideas. We welcome Toronto composer Bekah Simms to co-curate this episode of Press Play, with an introduction to Nicky’s work, and fascinating insight into the idea of borrowed material in contemporary music.
Contrary to digital device failure, which generally leads to an overall shutdown, analogue devices will behave erratically and unpredictably for some time. A complete shutdown is a last resort – the final breath in a long series of breaths. A great deal of my work centres on this period of erratic failure in a machine, aiming to freeze its current condition and capture it in a musical work before it finally succumbs to the stasis of total failure. The beauty that results from the damage and degradation of media (i.e. cassettes, vinyl, Betamax and VHS tapes), coupled with the resulting deconstruction of the information contained therein, is its very essence. The malfunction of the machines and media is only the beginning. The live performers interact and engage with the media complimenting and assimilating its traits, while instilling expression and artistic interpretation to the glitch. Through this harnessing of imperfection and glitch a new kind of precision and expression is born. Malfunctionlieder is a song cycle that integrates manipulated voice on film with live voice. Corrupted fragments from film scenes interweave and meld with the live voice, forming duets between the living and ghosts from the past. Eliza Doolittle’s arduous pronunciation lessons from Professor Higgins, Mother Superior’s (ever widening) vibrato, a barbershop quartet created from Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, the rethinking and reassembling of the vocal warmup in Amadeus to update the concept of ‘the vocal warmup’: all short fragments transformed into vocal idioms and themes that the live singer and pianist engage with. The nature of the film manipulation adds a new virtuosic element for the live performers. From abrupt fluctuations between tempi and keys to the splicing of melodies and rhythms at ‘inconvenient’ moments – what results are new colours and perspectives, a new virtuosity, and even a new language as text is chopped and rearranged, creating a fictitious language.
I am honoured to have been asked to create the commissioned piece for the 40th anniversary of the E-Gré competition. Special thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts for their generous support in the commissioning of this work.
Nicole Lizée 2017