Cathedral City was the (2010) debut album of Missy Mazzoli’s ensemble Victoire. All the tracks are music composed by Mazzoli and give a pretty good feel for her non-operatic output. It’s been described as a “distinctive blend of post-rock dreamscapes and quirky minimalism” and that seems as good a description as any. Virtuosic instrumental playing is mixed with live vocals, electronics and distorted recorded speech fragments. Often the material is looped and the basic acoustic changed to create a different sound scape. The music is by turns, drivingly energetic, brutal and gently lyrical. It’s like the work of no other composer I know and I find it really compelling.
Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s opera Song From the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt is based on the journals of Isabelle Eberhardt; a Swiss explorer, mystic and writer who roamed the deserts of North Africa before her untimely death at the age of 27. It was conceived as a multi-media opera and staged as such at The Kitchen in New York in 2012. A studio CD recording was made by the original cast soon after. One can get a s sense for the look and feel of the stage piece from the trailer for the original show which is still available on Youtube.
Feel like listening to something different? Then I can recommend Missy Mazzoli’s 2014 genre defying Vespers for a New Dark Age. Conceptually it reimagines the traditional vespers prayer service with its, perhaps, archaic formality to explore he way we confront technology, ghosts, death, doubt and God in our “new dark age”.
Structurally there are eight movements run together which set fragments of poems by Matthew Zapruder. The setting uses vocals, amplified strings, winds, organs, synthesizers and lots of electronics to create a weird and disturbing soundscape of many moods though the overall tone is very dark.
The performance is created by Mazzoli’s ensemble Victoire, Glenn Kotche (of Wilco) and vocalists Mellissa Hughes, Martha Cluver and Virginia Warnken (of Roomful of Teeth). Electronic production is by synth producer Lorna Dune, who plays a crucial role, and is also responsible for the bonus track; an electronic remix of Mazzoli’s A Thousand Tongues.
The only criticism I have of the disk is that I couldn’t find the texts anywhere. Sometimes they are clear enough on the recording, sometimes not so much.