Jane Sheldon - I am a tree, I am a mouth CD

Jane Sheldon - I am a tree, I am a mouth CD

  • $11.00
    Unit price per 
Shipping calculated at checkout.

Out May 17, 2024

One of the Notable Recordings of 2022 - The New Yorker

“It’s like little else I’ve heard this year” - Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily

Having carved out a niche performing groundbreaking chamber opera around the world, Australian singer Jane Sheldon waited on releasing her own music until she felt she had brought her broad musical interests into focus. As an established voice in the arcane world of complex, new classical music, she wanted to expand beyond that to make music which would bypass the intellect and talk to the listener’s body. Somehow, she found that path through the combination of Rainer Maria Rilke (a German poet dead for almost a century), her voice, and 7 gongs. On I am a tree, I am a mouth, working with one gong for each song, Sheldon launched herself into experiments with layered voices, electronic processing, and super slowed down fragments of sonic resonance, where she skirted the edge of avant rock to find her true singular voice. It’s an album that’s viscerally human, earnestly sensual and passionately transcending.

“My approach to opera performance is all about submitting completely to the physicality of a piece, which can mean big physical and vocal gestures,” Sheldon says. “Making a recording that foregrounds the body actually involved getting super small and detailed, building an intimate interaction for the vocal layers that would feel erotic, both to sing and to hear. This is not the way singing is usually talked about in classical music and it was very freeing to think of things that I’d usually label microtonal, for example, simply as sensual gesture, melodic intimacy. And once I’d made the record I could hear the breadth of my influences in it: somehow Bjork, Hildegard von Bingen, Maryanne Amacher, Lhasa de Sela… they’re all hiding in there, and it means I can find listeners I wouldn’t otherwise have found.” [I can give you a different kind of list if this combo of references doesn’t feel right.] 

Long a critical darling of modern music (called “riveting” by The New York Times, "stunning" by The Washington Post, and “a voice of penetrating beauty, precision and variegated colors” by the Sydney Morning Herald), she’s premiered new operas at Holland Festival with ASKO|Schönberg and Sydney Chamber Operatoured the world with John Zorn; performed at Tokyo Festival in Damien Ricketon and Adena Jacob’s highly experimental work The Howling Girls; and is soon to premiere Jack SymondsGilgamesh singing Ishtar, goddess of sex and destruction. But Sheldon goes minimal on I am a tree, I am a mouth. She started recording gongs, slowing them down, singing along, seeing how the interaction sounded, and soon realized it embodied all she was looking to achieve. Not one breath hides, and as one listens one is made aware of one’s own breathing, one’s heartbeat, the flow of one’s blood.

“The most natural interpretation of Rilke’s poems I could imagine was to sing them to myself, layering up my voice, one person with multiple presences. These poems are odes to the ineffable, but I take them not to be addressing some abstract notion of god personified elsewhere; they’re odes to the gorgeous mysteriousness of one’s inner life and express an exquisite eroticism of the self. I’ve tried to convey in the music what I most love about his poems, which is the dynamism of ardor and restraint that is always at play...”

Sheldon completed the album at the tail end of the pandemic, and she released the album to streaming with almost zero promotion. She was surprised when The New Yorker and Bandcamp praised its unique vision, as well as when New York’s MATA Festival programmed the first live performance of the work.

“I really made this album for myself with very little expectation that anyone would hear it. So I was enormously moved by the response to the digital release and can’t wait for it to find new listeners in this new form.”

Sheldon’s discipline involves utter focus and emotional engagement. In 2019, she published a manifesto with her views on performance, deriving from one written in 1965 by dance artist Yvonne Rainer, and it is these challenges she places on herself that makes I am a tree, I am a mouth a stunning, boundary-crossing work.

Among the proclamations:

No to merely entertaining.

No to eccentric cuteness. No to quirk.

No enacting being moved. Actually being moved is fine but must not be sought or forced.

Be lush, precise, majestic and self-sufficient.

Start the engine.

Essentially, be real, be pure, be true. These statements accurately describe the experience of I am a tree, I am a mouth, an enrapturing work by a newcomer to mainstream audiences who has been kicking at the edges for years.