Joseph Zitt – Nightscape for Irene

Joseph Zitt
Nightscape for Irene

After a listening to a lot of overdriven punk rock and what not, it is cleansing in a way to listen to performances of vocal music. No matter how complex the compositions become, or how jarring the performance, there is a purity to the human voice that encourages intent listening and reflection. This is why a 15th century Motet can be just as striking to our modern ears as a (relatively) recent Ligetti composition. Harnessing this power in the tradition of everyone from Brian Eno to Karlheinz Stockhausen, Joseph Zitt has composed a number of atmospheric “structured improvisations” for voice both on his own and in collaboration with other groups, such as Comma. Zitt’s music has a spiritual element to it, which is evidenced both literally (his compositions feature improvised Torah readings, found sounds from Jerusalem, and texts based on religious service), and abstractly (the slow unfolding nature of his vocal music is meditative and often transcends its pre-determined structural origins).

That “Nightscape for Irene” was written as a lullaby is surprising, as this material would more likely be found in a horror film soundtrack than a toddler’s crib. One can only guess at what sort of dreams these sounds might engender! Then again, a gentle drone is a gentle drone, no matter how atonal it becomes … so it seems likely to do its job. If Branca were to mellow and start listening to Arvo Paart, he might make music like “Nightscape…” The piece starts off with a shimmering bowed guitar that is joined by processed vocals that create strange harmonies that resonate like hallucinations in this cave-like recording. This music gives you an idea of what it might be like to “hear” colors. It seems to follow an arc, but other than that it sounds very organic and appears to evolve naturally, without any specific external influence. There is something subtle about the “freeness” of this piece though that belies Zitt’s professional/academic musical background. Like the music of Cage, Zitt’s piece seems to have space written into it intentionally, allowing the performance to “work” no matter how a person would decide to perform it. The inspiration of Riley’s “In C” can be heard in that this music could probably be performed by nearly anyone anywhere … “Nightscape,” while not a hummable tune, is memorable and is not incapable of repetition like many great jazz solo improvisations. It lacks that elated desperation of great improvisation, yet stops time in other more subtle ways worth returning to.