Anaïs Maviel’s “Visceral and Beautiful” in the garden (Gold Bolus)

Anaïs Maviel is an experimental composer working primarily in New York. From the composers website, “her work focuses on the function of music as essential to settling common grounds, addressing Relation, and creating utopian future.” in the garden (Gold Bolus Recordings) is Maviel’s most recent work recorded live at OBEY Convention in Nova Scotia in May 2018. Maviel plays all the instruments in the recording (voice, kamele n’goni–a stringed West African instrument, lyra–a Greek bowed instrument, surdo–a Brazilian bass drum, singing bowl, and piano). in the garden is both textural and folkloric, playing with musical simplicity and complexity. It is full of short moments that stay stuck in your ear and longer events that play out over an extended period of time. 

Maviel takes no breaks in between the first three tracks, all flowing seamlessly into one another. The first, “bells,” is just that–a slow crescendo of ringing bells that at first sounds distant but is soon at full force, as though Maviel is calling and welcoming the listener into her world. “bells” gives way to “i am you,” which focuses on plucked notes on the kamele n’goni and voice. She sings, “Can I wear your face? I lost mine in a dream. Can I borrow your tongue? I forgot how to speak.” Maviel’s voice is a counterpoint to the drone established by the kamele n’goni, but she takes long breaks in between stanzas to let the listener bask in the reverberation of both instruments.

Anaïs Maviel--Photo courtesy

Anaïs Maviel–Photo courtesy

The title track, “in the garden,” starts with a simple plucked arpeggio that Maviel slowly manipulates and alters. The voice begins with a wavering pitch that eventually slips into a free falling melisma. In general, Maviel’s singing throughout in the garden toes the line between a vibrato-less pop sensibility and something that is both tonally and technically folkloric. As “in the garden” ends, we hear Maviel briefly address the audience and say, “So here’s the transition. From here to here…” before beginning the next track.

The final two tracks on in the garden feel like the second part of a two movement work, partly because we’ve just heard applause and Maviel speak for the first time, but there is also a marked shift in texture and instrumentation. There are no more lyrics for the rest of the album although Maviel does continue to use her voice in conjunction with her playing. “listening” is the most textural piece in the group. Where the previous two tracks feature singing over a drone, “listening” plays with extended techniques and non-pitched sounds to create a juxtaposed texture. A flurry of activity on the surdo gives way to Maviel’s voice, which ultimately turning into a duet where the two instruments are literally listening to interacting with each other. “listening” ends with a vocal run that begins with a short run up and down a scale but melts into something that is tonally adventurous and surprising. 

Anaïs Maviel--Photo by Cameron Kelly Courtesy Issue Project Room

Anaïs Maviel–Photo by Cameron Kelly Courtesy Issue Project Room

in the garden closes with “bells from afar” performed on piano with vocal accompaniment. If Maviel had previously been close to a microphone, she is now far away from it, and we are hearing the echo of her voice behind the piano. “bells from afar” ends with one final chord on the piano that echoes into silence for almost an entire minute before the audience begins to applaud.

in the garden is a work that primarily works with the manipulation of different textures as opposed to the presentation of melodies and chord progressions. Where other textural composers would be content to set up a particular sound world and let it play its course, Maviel shifts and mixes opposing sound worlds in a way that is both cohesive and jarring in its juxtaposition. In a genre that is perhaps too often accused of being overly academic and static, Maviel injects a surprising amount of narrative and drama into her work that makes it easily approachable while still challenging the listener. This is a music that is both visceral and beautiful, ensuring that the only downside is not being able to watch Maviel perform in person.