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Acting Vocally

Shodekeh looks to bring minds together by words--among other sounds--of mouths

Frank Hamilton

By Michael Byrne | Posted 3/24/2010

Embody presents Vocal Arts x3

March 27, Creative Alliance at the Patterson

For more information visit creativealliance.org.

Shodekeh is done performing. He's not done getting behind microphones and achieving superhuman feats with his mouth, but the result, he insists, won't be performance. "If I'm not doing something new, then I ain't doing what I'm supposed to be doing," Baltimore's reigning beatbox champion explains over breakfast in a Mount Vernon café. "There's nowhere else for me to go than forward and up. I want to reach planets."

And the vehicle for getting to those planets involves transcending the idea of performance. "It's my hope when I'm in a drum circle, I'm not performing," Shodekeh, aka Dominic Shodekeh Talifero, says. "I'm presenting something to the people witnessing it, and the people that are in the drum circle with me. Whatever it may be. Like, I had a horrible week, so I am here to present some frustration. Or I had a great week, so I'm going to enjoy myself.

"At this time, I'm much more interested in having a presentation, having something in which it's a movement of community," he adds. "As long as the energy is shared--when that happens it's no longer a performance."

Look for those movements of community much more over the next few years, as Shodekeh begins a series of presentations known as Embody, culminating in a large-scale festival of extreme vocal arts of the sort to match an event like experimental music frenzy High Zero. "It's a focus on the vocal arts in all its different forms when it's used in an extended expression and extended technique," he says. "Opera singing, throat singing, beatboxing, vocal percussion. Most of the time, vocal disciplines are kind of segregated from one another. I think this is an opportunity for different forms to come together."

Shodekeh explains that the root of the idea is the broad concept of "conversations without words," quoting Meredith Monk's idea that, "'there are other faculties in human conversations that have nothing to do with words,'" he says. "I saw that and knew exactly what she was talking about. Personally, I think most human beings talk too much anyway, and there are so many other ways to express yourself verbally, non-verbally, non-vocally."

One of the first public intros to the series--and eventual festival--was in 2008 via Ignite Baltimore, the series where different presenters discuss individual topics within a 5-minute allotment. It is not a place one goes to hear extreme music. But Ignite is a place to present ideas, which is exactly what Shodekeh wants to do.

Within music, extreme vocal music is experimental, leftfield, and/or avant-garde--perhaps an occasional mainstream or indieland subject of dalliance. Within culture, it is much simpler: sublingual communication. "These things kind of happened organically, but at the same time out of necessity," Shodekeh says. "I think most of us as people are extremely distant from our own bodies. We developed over time way too outside our bodies.

"People are at once removed by the technique [of extreme vocal arts]," he adds. "And then at the same time, they're enchanted. I think a little bit of mystery is good. People's hearts are brought closer, but their heads--there's probably a barrier there."

Beyond producing atom-bomb-powerful beats and other sounds, Shodekeh has also accomplished another rare feat among Baltimore musicians. He's collaborated over the years with, like, everyone: funk band the Bridge, folk songwriter Bethany Dinsick, an assortment of local jazzbos, the all-in improv mania of High Zero, KRS-One--and this is just a sampling of the lines Shodekeh's crossed in his some 20 years of beatboxing.

With Embody, he sees the same possibility of crossing lines and bringing disparate music together. This Saturday, Embody brings to the stage throat-singer Ian Hesford, opera singer Bonnie Lander, and Shodekeh himself. "I think with a beatboxer, a throat-singer, and an opera singer in the same room, there's potential to remove a lot of barriers," he says. "These three different disciplines, yeah, they're from different musical settings and cultures, but the fact that they usually have nothing to do with each other is a reflection of how people are so separated as well.

"If they weren't separate to begin with, you wouldn't have all of these different and unique cultures," he continues. "But at the same time, there's no reason for them to not fuck with each other and get into the same musical space, get into the same energy."

Understand that these niches--beatboxing, opera singing, throat singing--are not ones you're likely to hear and experience in a way that's not presenting something new. Opera and throat-singing are indeed older musical styles, but two-odd millennia after the birth of Tuvan throat-singing, it's not consumed or experienced en masse. (Note that Baltimore's Lyric Opera House is more a home for musicals and pop stars than anything actually opera.) A listener can't help but be struck by the sheer singularity of this sort of vocal music, not just the fact that it's coming from an actual human being with the same sort of equipment you have, but the whole package of being strikingly foreign in style and conception.

The net result are genres of music that, well, don't get out much. "It [seems] like they are mainly playing for one another," Shodekeh says of these genres. "There's definitely an incestuous relationship between the performers, presenters, and the patrons. They're all whistlers or they're all experimental musicians. I think that kind of sucks--for everyone involved. It's not easy, either. But it's a challenge that needs to be met."

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