Beth Anderson’s “Namely”

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Listeners approaching Beth Anderson’s “Namely” without knowing anything about it beforehand may be baffled, annoyed, intrigued, or entertained. Or all four. Is it music? Is it spoken word? Maybe when the spoken text ceases to be verbal, “Namely” turns into music. Or perhaps these pieces are theatrical monologues in miniature.

Here’s the basic process: Anderson takes the name of an important creative figure in her life. She places the name in a “magic square” that is used to generate text material by means of anagram, removing letters, and other procedures that seem comparably rigorous or mathematically oriented. She’s used 65 names to create 65 pieces that respectively last from 21 seconds to three minutes, with an average minute and a half duration. The booklet notes go into deep philosophical and conceptual detail, and I don’t pretend to understand them. All I can do is respond to what I hear.

Take the name George Antheil, for example. Anderson says his name straight, then intones its first alteration by laying on the syllable “Gee”. She’ll alter throaty guttural sounds and clipped staccato vowels. Once in a while a recognizable word manifests in the mix, like “eagle”. After Anderson states “John Adams” she waits a beat and says “Joe, cchhaa, ogh”, then buttons the gesture with “damn”. Perhaps my favorite inadvertent verbal result occurs in the Richard Kostelanetz piece, where I hear something like “Tin, Ale, Suck, Draw”.

Fortunately, Anderson is a great performer, and she doesn’t take herself seriously. She inflects her phrases with lots of variety and genuine comic timing. Most of all, she seems to enjoy herself. The 65 pieces are programmed in alphabetical order by name, and last 58 minutes total, for those who want to absorb them in one gulp. To be honest, you get the point after hearing three or four in a row. Still, it’s fun to poke around to hear what verbal arabesques Anderson divines from your favorite luminaries. How about “Why, Okay, ooh” (Yoko Ono), or “Ecoli, mnught, plop” (Colin McPhee), or “At Hell Smit” (Ethyl Smyth). And last but not least, “Osmo Ha Teeeee-gree” (Virgil Thomson).



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

  • Beth Anderson (voice)

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