Soundstreams’ high concept show Electric Messiah opened at the Drake Underground last night. So what is Electric Messiah? It’s a potent mix of Handel/Jennens, four exceptional singers from varied backgrounds, electronics, turntable artists and electric guitars. It’s “staged” in the round in a dive bar with the audience and artists mixed up all over the place. Curator Kyle Brenders, dramaturg Ashlie Corcoran and lighting designer Patrick Lavender have created something that’s weird and dynamic and exciting and, just occasionally, a bit self indulgent and I really enjoyed it. Probably my biggest complaint would be that it’s too short at around an hour.
As I said, four singers. The soprano part was taken by the one and only Carla Huhtanen. Toronto music goers will know her as the fearless one who will tackle anything from Opera Atelier to screaming for Murray. The alto part was taken Christine Duncan; a jazz improvisationist with a gospel background and a range of five octaves. Jeremy Dutcher sang tenor. He’s a classically trained singer from the Wolastoqiyik of New Brunswick and brings that tradition as well as the classical to the piece. Gabriel Dharmoo, baritone, who is an improviser who studied composition in Montreal and the music of the Carnatic in Chennai. Add to that John Gzowski on electric guitar, electronics from Doug Van Nort and the Electroacoustic Orchestra of York University backed up by DJ Slowpitch Sound and one has a pretty potent mix. There was an,
uncredited, chorus too; The Element Choir directed by Christine Duncan, who were very much involved in the action.
Structurally we got an air for each soloist, mostly accompanied on guitar, and a few choruses with linking sections of, I think, improvised remixed fragments for the most part. I’d actually like to know more about how those sections were constructed. Highlights for me were Dutcher’s Ev’ry Valley sung powerfully from all points of the compass with lots of physical presence, Duncan’s He was Despised where she showcased her vocal range and flexibility and just about managed to not be completely OTT and Huhtanen’s really gorgeous How Beautiful are the Feet. All this was capped off with a really kinetic and joyous Hallelujah that closed out the show.
Chatting in the bar afterwards I learned that Soundstreams will likely rework this next year. I hope they do. It could develop in so many interesting ways. For this year there’s one more chance to catch the show at 8pm tonight. It’s only $15 and well worth a look. Tickets here.