Against the backdrop of city sounds, Eckert’s choir clustered together on the steps of Pioneer Square. I positioned myself towards the back of the audience, in order to experience a melding of intentional and environmental sounds, to hear the boundaries of the performance, in its site-specific nature. On the Great Migration of Excellent Birds used a full range of choral methods, from the strong, simple round of the beginning and end, to the extended techniques of hissing, mumbling, chattering and tongue clicks that mark many contemporary vocal pieces, to the rich unison chants reminiscent of church musics (they even threw in some “Amens” for good measure). At several points, the choir was overwhelmed by the sounds of traffic, Max train announcements, random voices and urban rumble. This seemed to annoy some audience members, who shushed at the world to be quiet. Personally, I was intruigued by hearing those choral voices as another element in the chaos of downtown movement. It seemed to highlight the openness, vulnerability and inhumanity of the American urban center. There was an essential tension between the continuing unresponsive city and the Great Migration‘s celebration of collective force with its chants of “We are the excellent birds! Where? Here! When? Now!”.
The performers flapping books and sheets of white paper created a beautifully mundane ballet. In ordinary clothes, they were distinguishable from the bystanders and passers-by only in their grouping and determination to sing together. This created a feeling of accessibility and ordinariness, and forced the question: “Why don’t we do this more often?”
I imagined the piece being performed in a European city center, where the buildings would comfortingly surround, creating a contained space for voices to bounce back, where a plaza of cafes and sidewalks would cater to the human ambulatory experience of real bodies for which this piece seemed to be designed.
I also imagined a different piece in which, possibly at the exclusion of such a unified visual spectacle, the choir would integrate with the audience and the city, spreading out to absorb rather than confront, meshing into the buildings, people and traffic…
- posted by Seth Nehil