Concert :  Sound Symposium XVIII, July 14, 2016 Anthropologies Imaginaires: Gabriel Dharmoo/ LSPU Hall

By Mitra Jahandideh

Only one year after it was awarded the best International Production at the Amsterdam Fringe Festival, I had the chance to watch the fabulous performance of Gabriel Dharmoo, Anthropologies Imaginaires at the 18th biennial Sound Symposium. It is an avant-garde solo vocal and theatrical performance that interacts with a video mockumentary. The performance represents the virtuosity of just one live performer, Gabriel Dharmoo, the composer, actor, and director.

Once the performance starts, a light directs the audience’s attention to the left side of the stage where Dharmoo stands whisper/singing a melody. The melody goes up, down and circulates in perfect harmony with his body movements. In my view, it is exactly the best kind of body and voice dialogue!

After the first Dharmoo’s solo part, the screen introduces to the audience five experts who talk about various ways of singing among eleven invented “populations” from across the world. Throughout the piece Dharmoo uses astonishingly odd body movements, gestures, and vocal techniques to perform the process of sound making by each of the eleven represented populations. Watching eleven outstanding musical pieces that are based on different traditions of making sound was really delightful for everyone. It was entirely obvious that the audience was enjoying it as they started laughing and singing with each other, and also in some points they were completely silent! As the piece progresses, the five experts comment on each of the eleven populations, using increasingly disturbing, essentialist comments about these so-called primitive populations.  By the end of the piece we have learned not to trust these voices, but rather to revel in the playfulness and virtuosity of the diverse voices presented by Dharmoo.

In fact, Dharmoo is showing us how the process of sound making is formed and evaluated from a simple tone to a polyphonic texture. In his fictional “anthropology” people use different ways to create sounds; for example, by mouth, fingers in the mouth, tapping on the body, or through outside elements like water. Some populations sing and make sounds based on one tone while others gradually learn to sing based on a series of tones. One population has a tendency to conduct large choirs through a trance technique (the audience became the choir for this section!)

The most delightful part of Gabriel’s performance for me was when the “nomadic population” discovered water and water became an extension of the human voice. Gabriel shows it so masterfully with a water bowl on the stage. He submerges his face in it and starts to produce lots of aquatic sounds by singing and beatboxing to show the happiness of these people when they celebrate finding water.

As an Asian audience member, it was really charming for me that just a few minutes into the piece I found the roots and spirit of Indian music at the heart of Gabriel’s melodies; of course, it refers back to his family background. Gabriel’s father was born in Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean where there is a high percentage of people with Indian ancestry and he also researched Carnatic music with four renowned masters in Chennai (India) in 2008 and 2011.  Gabriel’s bio notes that “he’s always been interested in India” and “the process of sharing with musicians from other countries is part of his art”.