Hyper-Human: Beauty + Grotesque

When it comes to sound, Maile Colbert's focus these days is acoustic ecology, but her
multidisciplinary media artistry has always been driven by concept and research. Ice
Thaw Chorus
(2008) is no exception, although it is a re-mix. There’s a divide and
synergy between the original sound the work is based on and the quality of new layers of
sonic material. Operatic vocalization melds with whistling, rattling and over-modulation
(as if that were a sound itself). There are traces of digital ‘musics’ throughout.

“I had to be delicate and different. All of the emotion was already there. So, I chose
sounds that by frequency or environment match and frame the image by association or
having a different and ‘cold’ feeling.”

Ice Thaw Chorus sings a song by Klaus Nomi—the aria of the Cold Genius from
Purcell's opera King Arthur. In the Frost Scene, the Cold Genius is awoken and ordered
to cover the land with ice and frost. Colbert explains that Nomi was dying of AIDS the
last time he sang this, at a time when the disease was hardly known.

“It's one of the most moving and heartbreaking and achingly beautiful performances I
have ever experienced.”

Colbert takes the myth in verse of being woken unwillingly by some force, wanting to
remain unconscious, wanting to remain asleep, not wanting to feel the cold. She says her
only ‘job’ was to make the re-mix a tribute to Nomi.


Maile Colbert, Ice Thaw Chorus (5:47)


“I've been listening to him since I was a teen. Even though he was seen by some as
bizarre and other-worldly (sometimes with fear, sometimes with love), his balance
between the beauty and the grotesque has always struck me as very human, even hyperhuman.”

Colbert is enchanted with movement and stillness. In her restrained hand, there's a body
working against itself, floating in space, but perhaps also time. How much hierarchy
exists in the production process of mediated traces of ghost visuals, movement, text and
sounds depends on the project. Colbert says after a while a project will tell you what it
wants. In Ice Thaw Chorus, there are visual gestures that beckon the viewer, perhaps
even a process of sonic gestures.

“That's a rather nice way to put it actually. With this work especially, the body, though
re-mixed, is the work of another artist. So it's a lovely way to articulate that my work
with and upon the main ‘body’ are ‘gestures.’”

Images of glaciers and oil-slicked waters could lead audiences to consider a narrative.
Colbert says Ice Thaw Chorus wasn't intentionally offering a message about the physical
environment so much as exploring myth and music.

“It's a little love poem,” she surmises about an influence she can never meet. “It's out in
the ether, as perhaps is he.”



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