Sheila Chandra with the Ganges Orchestra
This Sentence is True (The Previous Sentence is False)
Sentence is Sheila Chandra’s first full-length release since 1996’s AboneCroneDrone. Aided and abetted by “The Ganges Orchestra,” a fictitious group she and producer/partner/multi-instrumentalist Steve Coe created to help her break out of her former voice-and-drone work, Chandra shifts the focus here somewhat from her gorgeous, infinitely varied, and expressive voice to the settings and soundscapes surrounding it. The mood on most tracks is very experimental; however, the album overall still follows very much in the tradition of Chandra’s previous work, exploring voice as medium, message, and meditation.
Probably the most immediately accessible track to Chandra’s fans will be the 15-minute “ABoneCroneDrone 7,” which, as the name implies, originated in the recording sessions for AboneCroneDrone. Here, Chandra perfects her technique of singing in trance-like, wordless phrases over a founding drone, weaving kaleidoscopic patterns of ever-changing sonic textures from a deceptively simple vocal palette. “Is” also harks back to an old Chandra technique, vocal percussion syllables spat out at breakneck speed, but click-spitting electronic percussion is also present this time, almost engaging in a collaboration or conversation with Chandra’s voice, as if trying out different solutions to the same musical questions.
“Not a Word in the Sky” combines Eno-esque heavenly ambient textures with some pretty impressive spoken-word lyrics on the poetics of sound, voice, mind, and illusion, which Chandra says is in part an homage to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” imagining Major Tom alone and adrift in space with his “larger knowings about the nature of things.” Another spoken-word piece, “Mien,” takes part of a speech that Chandra gave in Khazak in 1991, and pairs it with spare keyboards, terrifying dark croaks, and heavy static to question the perceived truths of speech and writing.
“True,” though, feels to me like the track that most fulfills Sentence‘s promise. It begins with Chandra chanting “e spiritus sanctus” in a cathedral-like, vast, echoey space, a pure and lovely evocation of the sacred nature of sound and breath. Slowly, drones and drilling sounds come up, and then voice is added, building and building to a wall of sound that is never monolithic, always moving and changing; just as pure and expressive and sacred as Chandra’s voice alone, but in a way that is different enough to make you question the whole idea of what is “true” in music. Toward the end of the track the noise ebbs, leaving us first with the drone, and finally with one last phrase in Chandra’s incomparable solo voice.
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