A simple folk tune, a florid aria, a shredding metal tune: an interview with Roomful of Teeth

Featuring : Roomful of Teeth

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If anyone thinks choral music is an anachronism in 2015 then they’re just not listening. Two years ago Katie Gately’s Pipes took Bjork’s Medulla approach to acapella arrangements and exploded it (leading to the inevitability of the two inniuses actually working together this year).

Just as exciting are Roomful of Teeth – a Massachusetts choir formed in 2009 by singer and composer Brad Wells. Roomful of Teeth profess to approach music more like a band than a choir, bringing in influences from Tuvan throat singing as much as opera and Korean p’ansori singing as much as Gregorian chant.

Their output to date consists of a mix of the members’ own compositions and new pieces from modern composers such as Missy Mazzoli and Merrill Garbus (aka tUnE-yArDs). It is intense, innovative, of-the-moment music from people with a genuine love for sound in all its myriad formats.

They’re possibly the closest thing XXJFG can imagine right now to a contemporary version of our beloved, untouchable Geinoh Yamashirogumi. There is no higher compliment.

We spoke to members Brad Wells and Cameron Beauchamp who told us a little about their working processes.

Brad Wells:

“The selection process for composers is intuitive and informal.  We look for creative musicians with distinct, original compositional voices – composers who have something to say and whose music connects with audiences.

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“Not every ensemble member composes (about half of us do).  But every member does contribute creatively to the process of building new work – especially if that new work is generated from composers within the group.  Suggestions, ideas, different perspectives from each singer are welcome and often incorporated into our new pieces.

“There’s no consistent style or quality that I look for when writing for the group.  Suffice it to say I look for feeling – strong feeling – whether it’s a physical sensation of ring or buzz that results or a vivid emotional response or release.  The human voice – in speech or song – is drenched in emotion; if one doesn’t feel something when the extraordinary vocalists of Roomful of Teeth are singing, something is wrong.”

Roomful of Teeth – Vesper Sparrow (composed by Missy Mazzoli)

Cameron Beauchamp:

“Hopefully, our music can draw in listeners from all walks of life and turn them on to genres of music that is foreign to them. We aim to widen the general listen audience.

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“Our music gives a freedom that I don’t experience when performing other types of music. Never have I felt this depth of expression through so many colors of singing.

“I don’t believe a good singer is defined by his/her pedigree. I believe the integrity and dedication to the musical line is the defining point. I am equally moved by a simple folk tune, a florid aria, or a shredding metal tune. It’s all in the honesty of the performer. ”