'Cipher' blends improvisation, voice, sound, electronics, and light to create a contemporary soundscape
The Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech presents two performances of experimental composer and vocalist Samita Sinha’s newest project, “Cipher,” on Saturday, Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 12 at 2 p.m.
The performances will be held in the Cube at the Moss Arts Center, 190 Alumni Mall.
A staged music work for solo voice and electronics, “Cipher” is a journey through a sonic landscape. Utilizing her practice of “bodysound,” which unites voice, physical gesture, language, and space into potent articulations from raw utterance to speech to song, Sinha explores the possibilities of creating a native tongue that gathers and refracts multiple languages, worldviews, and temporalities.
Ranging from tightly structured to freely improvisational, from melodic to atonal, the experimental score embraces Sinha’s diverse heritage and investigations. In three parts, “Cipher” passes back and forth among formless expression, traditional Indian song, and southern blues, creating a contemporary soundscape that weaves together tones, moods, and languages.
A theatrical music work for live voice and electronics, “Cipher” uses sound, silence, light, and the body to rewrite notions of power. The work reflects how Sinha’s sensibility as a music artist is closely bound to the sound qualities of language; she speaks and sings in Hindi, Urdu, Brajh, Bengali, Sanskrit, Mandarin Chinese, English, and Spanish.
The vocabulary heard in “Cipher” is tarana — a genre of song in Hindustani classical vocal music that mixes Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit syllables and is believed to encode mystical meanings.
“Cipher” is performed with a “band of boxes,” which includes an electronic tabla (drum) and tanpura (drone) from India. These boxes contain centuries of traditional acoustic finery in a convenient, contemporary form, and are combined with microphones, looping devices, and bass frequencies. Each sound is localized on stage through amplifiers and speakers, threaded together by Sinha’s voice into a sonic, vibrational architecture. The pulse of the electronic tabla surrounds the audience, as Sinha becomes a lightning rod of melody and embodied vocalizations.
As a first generation American in a South Asian immigrant family exploring her inheritance, Sinha brings feelings to “Cipher” that flow from the loss of mooring to ancestral home and language, as well as the creative potential embedded in that rupture.
Composed by Sinha, it is performed in an immediate, responsive relationship between her, as vocalist; DJ and sound designer Dave Sharma; and lighting designer Christopher Kuhl. The set is designed by visual artist Dani Leventhal and costumes are by Anna Telcs. The artists’ interplay creates a live, vibrational space that powerfully conveys what it means to be seen and heard.
Immediately following the Saturday, Oct. 11 performance will be a post-show discussion with Sinha, Sharma, and Kuhl, the creators of “Cipher.”
Sinha will also participate in a talk about her collaboration with Sharma for Virginia Tech composition and computer music students. The talk will be moderated by Eric Lyon, associate professor of music technology and composition in Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts.
Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students and youth 18 years old and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300.
Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.
“Cipher” is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) in partnership with the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech, the Wexner Center for the Arts, and the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).