Blog

The Wire – June 2024

Elaine Mitchener – Solo Throat

Otoroku DL/LP

Daniel Glassman

“unknown tongue” might be the most impressive piece of all. Multitracking her vocals, she conjures up a drama of communication beyond language: her two characters seem to meet, argue, scheme, get frustrated, hit an impasse, muddle through, and finally begin to play and harmonise with each other.

Elaine Mitchener is a virtuosic experimental vocalist, movement artist, and archivist of the global Black avant garde. Solo Throat, her first solo LP, uses texts by African-American and African-Caribbean poets Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Aimé Césaire, Una Marson and NH Pritchard as catalysts for experiments in translation – from text to voice, from past to present. Mitchener doesn’t just recite these poems; rather, she treats them as sites for encounter ridden with both dangers for semantic breakdown and avenues for new meanings.

Mitchener’s vocal dexterity can’t be overstated. She toggles masterfully between pure and haunting tones on “black mantle” and “black mantle II”, clear and forceful diction on “gyre’s galax”, howls, sputters and stutters on “stretchedwoundspeaks”, and scratchy groans and melismatic whines on “tender as fly agaric”. “unknown tongue” might be the most impressive piece of all. Multitracking her vocals, she conjures up a drama of communication beyond language: her two characters seem to meet, argue, scheme, get frustrated, hit an impasse, muddle through, and finally begin to play and harmonise with each other.

At least that’s what I hear. Ultimately, making sense of all this is only part of the point. Consider “spittle”, the middle piece of a triptych inspired by Aimé Césaire’s poem When In The Heat Of The Day Naked Monks Descend The Himalayas. The poem’s surreal language – “Very powerful monster against monster/Yours whose body is a statue of red woody sap/Whose spittle is fofa urine/ Mine whose sweat is a gush of caiman bile” – dissolves in Mitchener’s adaptation into a timbral soundscape of breathing, buzzing, growling, teasing.

Is she imitating a mosquito here, a monkey there, a river here, a monster there? Yes and no. I think Mitchener is interested in leaving her source texts opaque, making them resonate without exhausting them.

14 May 2024

The Quietus – 14 May 2024