Berlin-based violinist-composer-improviser-interdisciplinary artist Biliana Voutchkova concludes one of the most interesting and most ambitious musical projects of 2022 with three albums. Voutchkova began her DUOS project in 2020 as her curated live concert series in Berlin and continued it throughout 2022.
Voutchkova’s duo with Chicagoan cellist Tomeka Reid (who recently won the McArthur Fellowship) was recorded at Werkhalle Wiesenburg in Berlin in 2021, but their collaboration began when she and Reid were invited by the Goethe-Institut Chicago to do an online collaboration during the Covid-19 lockdowns as part of its series Bricolage (curated by Magda Mayas and Dave Rempis) and present a half hour long video and an artist talk. Shortly afterward Reid invited Voutchkova to participate in the online edition of her string festival, the Chicago Jazz String Summit, and Voutchkova invited Reid to her festival, DARA String Festival. Voutchkova, who likes to work with visual art, video and images, and graphic scores, already had some ideas about the video part, so she and Reid also took some footage of their hands. They continued to work on the video material when Reid returned home and Voutchkova created her first self-edited video (linked below).
Bricolage III offers three chamber pieces that stress the profound and instant affinity that Voutchkova and Reid share, with imaginative, talkative textures. The violin and cello become immediately an inseparable and highly vivid and emotional musical entity, flowing naturally and playfully, even in tense and dark moments or during the timbral searches, as if Voutchkova and Reid have been playing together for years. The second piece «For getting» is the most adventurous piece and Voutchkova and Reid explore extended bowing techniques that expand the violin and cello into twisted percussive instruments, but, again, in an organic, emphatic interplay. This duo reaches its emotional, compassionate climax in the last piece «For giving», a beautiful and profound conversation between true masters of their instruments, with Voutchkova using her voice as an extension of her violin.
The duo with American experimental sound artist Jeff Surak, who plays on tape recorders and amplified objects, was recorded during a day of guerilla actions in various places in Berlin in July 2022. Voutchkova and Reid recorded everything with no distinction between «performing» or matter-of-fact actions such as taking the tram to the next location, packing and unpacking, in order to blend with the multicolored soundscapes of each location. The next day they went into the local Liebig12 studio for a recording session but kept the spirit of the guerilla actions with the tapes rolling the whole time. Surak did the final collage edit of these recordings.
The truth about the key is non-narrative storytelling of two days in the city of Berlin. Voutchkova’s violin merges with the daily urban sounds of a busy, cosmopolitan city, inspired and commenting on the supposedly non-musical soundscapes, and attempting to turn these unpredictable and sometimes even chaotic, safely uncivilized (as the first piece is titled) soundscapes into meaningful compositions. This experimental approach of music-making in constant dialogue with the restless environment demands open ears, great sensitivity and deep listening, but most of all, the willingness to accept unexpected circumstances and assimilate humbly within these challenging sonic ambiances. The 26-minute title piece realizes this lively, unique vision in the most arresting manner.
The last and seventh installation in the DUOS2022 project, I am going to make an attempt to describe what you mean to me, with Australian, New York-based vocal artist Charmaine Lee was conceived and developed in 2022 via the exchange of images and sound files from a distance. Voutchkova and Charmaine responded from their homes to each other’s imaginations, drawing upon their personal senses in the comforts of their own homes. Voutchkova associated this duo with something intimate and familiar, with worlds of dreams, fantasies and parallel realities that merge into one another in the virtual space of creation somewhere between Paris, Berlin and New York. The short, spoken haiku-like poems became the titles of the five short pieces and originated from messages and actual dreams Voutchkova often records on her phone in the state of pre-sleep or just-awake. The cover art by Korean artist Noah Kae Choi intensifies these dreamy images.
Both Voutchkova and Lee are imaginative improvisers, focusing on spontaneous, playful and risk-taking soundscapes, which offer their respective, inventive extended techniques. Lee uses amplification, feedback, and microphones to augment and distort the voice, while Voutchkova adds her voice, field recordings and dictaphones. This duo emphasizes that distance becomes irrelevant as they weave together colorful and intricate violin and vocal sounds, poetic words and enigmatic and suggestive images and visions blend into intimate, dream-like soundscapes.
Biliana Voutchkova (vio, v, voice descriptions, objects, field rec, dictaphones); Tomeka Reid (c), Jeff Surak (tape rec, amplified objects); Charmaine Lee (v elec)