Where Ben Vida’s music has previously explored the sound of text at the outer register of electronic composition, here, in collaboration with the Yarn/Wire quartet and the vocalist Nina Dante, the voice and the words it works to inhabit are placed back at the time-scale of a song. There is a familiarity to this music’s combination of restrained melody and heightened atmosphere. It feels, softly, like it’s made by a band: piano, percussion, voice. A composition kept aloft and even by its four stewards through a simultaneity of effort. The pace, across five pieces, hurries and relaxes but never outruns or distends language. You could find a story in the words being sung, if that’s what you need.
But there are unfamiliar dimensions too. So many threads, so many timelines. A story or a thousand, or a litany of scraps: language complete but raw, language that can or cannot be translated. Singers fused at the breath. Oppositions or dualities—a question and an answer, two sides of a conflict, the sense of being here or over there—are drawn together into a single sentiment, plural with feeling. Voices negotiating in unison how to articulate a stance. Musical cues doling out tension as needed.
The five pieces that make up The beat my head hit were developed with Yarn/Wire over the last four years, with roots in Vida’s 2018 performance for four voices and electronics “And So Now” at BAM in Brooklyn. The Yarn/Wire ensemble, founded in 2005, has been collaborating with a broad range of experimental composers and sound artists since its inception: most recently, they have performed work by the likes of Sarah Hennies, Annea Lockwood, Catherine Lamb, and Alvin Lucier. Vida, meanwhile, has maintained a practice as both a musician and a visual artist, which has included drone-leaning solo work for electronics as well as improvisatory collaborations with musicians including Martina Rosenfeld and Lea Bertucci. Working with Yarn/Wire, for Vida, was something like joining a band. Following a few early live performances, the material was worked through in the studio across many permutations, a process during which Vida, Dante, Russell Greenberg, Laura Barger created what Vida calls “a meta-voice out of the blending of our four voices.” Sustained presence—language bringing a group to the place of breathing in unison—becomes the backbone of the piece.
That presence is an engine, but it's still full of negative spaces and exhales. It's thrilling, for example, to find oneself disarmed by the subtle harmonies introduced by the inevitable but infinitesimal distance between Vida and Dante’s voices. Or the introduction of subterranean bass on “Drawn Evening”: breath trapped? When ambient stillness steps in out of nowhere to replace fast talk on the title track, the evacuation of language is some other form of breath, too. The beat my head hit finds not just truth or reality in what happens at the periphery, but a kind of peace.