Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christa Bell: Sounds From The Inner Sanctum Vol. 1

What can I say about Christa Bell?

I will start out by saying I am a huge fan and a admirer. I can also say that for the rest of this piece you will here nothing but unadulterated "Christa love"! This wont be one of those times where somebody passes of "cheeky" cynicism and "two dollar" words as a scholarly artist critique--that sh*t is tired. No...you will on see the true admiration for a fellow artist...and my prideful promotion of the mix I made to honor her. I figured I should put all my biases out on "front street".

Well...to start, she is national slam champion, educator, a spoken word artist; a true “mystic” of sorts. Christa Bell's performances are a display of her mastery of the rendering of emotions from sounds and words.
She deals with subject matter that is common place within the spoken word circuit; society, misogyny, self-hate, spirituality, sex, and love. With each of these subjects she is able to paint new portraits and vivid landscapes upon a worn canvas of spoken word cliche with palette of “virgin” metaphors and a "ancient" messages in her delivery that is as if it was channeled from the spirits of all things “divine”. I watch the videos of her interacting with the crowd and was equally amazed. Folk are interacting with her energies as she performs. The effect of which is like an "Immaculate Conception", as her words impregnate her audiences; giving birth to new thoughts, that may be crucified at first, but will be canonized as they become memories.

Now that I think about it, I am not exactly sure where I first met Christa. That should be pretty hard for one to believe because she is impossible to forget. Its crazy...we have like 45 friends in common on Facebook (* not said like that is some new kinda bench mark for closeness). It is just funny to me that we know so many of the same artist and creative folks here in the Northwest, yet did not have any direct dealings until now.

I love that she has a Goddess like command over every social situation I have ever seen her in. My experiences over the years has shown me that she is the "real deal"; that her stage personality is pretty close to her everyday person. I am sure that their are more intimate layers; petals upon her flower that only bloom if given the right "light". I can say for myself that dealing with her is far less formal than having tea with the Queen; but to me she holds a similar type of majesty...both on stage and off.

Taken from her artist bio: She is the recipient of the CD Foru's Creation Project Grant (funded by the National Endowment for the Arts) for her one-woman show, CoochieMagik: A SpokenWord Mucical Comedy, the founder of WordMedicine Press & Records, the author of three collections of poetry and the creator and producer of two spoken-word albums, WordMedicine and Bitchualized (to be released fall of '07).

In 2006, as Seattle's Grand Slam Champion, and after placing third in the Individual Competition at the NationallPoetry Slam (NPS) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Christa headlined her first international spoken-word poetry tour, WordMedicine 2006, where she was invited to perform by over 80 venues across North America. Since taking to the stage in 2004, she has shared stages with many notable artists, scholars and activists including Angela Y. Davis, Saul Williams, Ursula Rucker, Bill Frissel and Muta Baruka, to name just a few.

SOUNDS FROM THE INNER SANCTUM

Sounds From The Inner Sanctum is an audio/video podcast (or just a DJ mix with pictures for vol. 1) that feature the spoken word artistry of Christa Bell with interpretative deejays and other audio collaborators. I haven't thought of all of the visual possibilities...but I am still mind boggled on what I was able to accomplish with Youtube audio as the source material. I would love to have studio recordings or a good digital live recording (oh boy!!!) .

I took recordings from streamed versions of Christa performing four of her poems. I started working on the audio and visuals about 12 hours before posting this entry. I truly started the mixes in my head about two days ago when I first brought the idea to Christa. The idea of the mix was to match music to her word that were complementary either harmonically, rhythmically, or in intensity. I did not originally think that I would be "remixing" her works but rather programing a podcast with music based on them. Once I started experimenting with layering her voice over some of the gritty tracks...man, I was "stuck".

Funny, the whole idea to work together just occurred a few days ago. I had recently been talking with Christa about doing some projects at the Electric Tea Garden. I figured with Record Store Day coming up, I would ask her if she would like to DJ a set at our event. I asked and her answer was an ecstatic yes!!! So now we are planning to meet to make a play list for the upcoming event.

While thinking about her DJ set (I was going through some vinyl from my own collection that I was going to play for the event on April 18th) I went to You tube and started listening to her works. I had never really heard her spoken word performances (well...not in full as I was usually working at the same events I seen her at). This time I was at home with my headphones on and had the full spectrum of her words and powerful voice as if she was speaking right to my ears the "wisdom of the ages". The fact is I just loved the energy that was coming from her and from the crowds during those live recorded events.

Having listened to the Youtube performances many times, back to back; I went to the record bin and started digging. I ended up still using some digital files to make things easier...but the core mix was worked out in vinyl first. I even looked around on some old Readers Digest records I had (from the '60s I guess)...just looking for some cool sound effects or warm pad sound to lay beneath her vocals in spots where there would be no music. What I found was a host of sounds and ethnic textures that gave many ideas for the transitions; the intro and the outros. I was looking for sounds that were identifiably "non western" but not exactly belonging or seeking to represent as any specific group. I went in this direction to sorta manifest my perception of Christa as a woman that has balanced her "cultures of origin" identities with a masterful understanding of and connection with the world at large. Her artist imagery as well as her personal style seems to be a synthesis of concepts and ideas that are identifiably African, Asian, Pre-Christian European and defiantly American (with her connections and references to Gospel, Hip-Hop, Soul, Rock 'n Roll...)

A 30 Minute Audio "Orgasm"

I liked the challenge of pairing music directly with Christa's words, like on the tracks "If She Don't Come" (mixed with MF DOOM's "My Favorite Ladies"), "Too Much" (layered over Squarepushers "The Exploding Psychology"), and "Wangari Maathai" (mixed with NOMUMBAH "ELA"). I initially feared pairing her with some of the Drum and Bass and Hip-Hop tracks. I thought it would be too "masculine" or would over power the delicate aspects of Christa performances. Christa has "muscular prose" and had delivered passionate performances that when mixed together; were never compromised by the grit and rawness of the Squarepusher and MF Doom tracks. I especially loved the pairing of "Wangari Maathai" with the tribal house track, "ELA". I had to manipulate the EQ pretty aggressively to make room for her vocals as there was not a long enough clean break for me to naturally slip in her performance. I had trouble getting that vocal both warm and clear...so I took the middle (and leaned abit towards clear).

**I love the RANE TTM-56 mixer that we have because the EQ's are unreal! I can pull out bass...mids...re-shape the sound in real time...all without the music losing to much sonic integrity.


I really loved the custom sounds I created for the song transitions. I used African women chants and yells with reverb and cross faded them forward and backwards. I cut up harmoniums and Indian violin sounds and added phase and other effects. I cut up random sounds and stretched them, warped them and played with their stereo panning to make it feel like ones head was swirling with intensity. Finally I used an Anime sample to aid the simulated "orgasm" effect at the end of "if She Don't Come". I liked it because of the mounting intensity it added to that transition.. It was "sexy" to have that pulsating sound pan in; slowly developing while it builds up.Then have the sound cut out to a brief silence, then go right into a smooth track like EWF's "Clover".

In hindsight, I will admit that it really wasn't the most attractive "orgasm sound". You know, I'll accept a little self criticism for the moment. That sequence is the only thing on the mix I would seriously consider changing...but not by much. As I think about it, the file sounded natural and pretty good until I had to change the pitch; thus speeding it up to make the sequence work. If I were to put more thought into the sound, I would have tried to find a more human ..."womanly" sound than the typical little girlish whine or the violent primal screams that Anime cartoons and main stream porn tend to showcase as a "parody" of when a woman is experiencing intense sexual pleasure. To be honest I didn't want to spend that much time on it as I did not think it was all that important (*Um....I hope you know I meant the sound ....not orgasms!). I spent a lot more time thinking about the sound effects and digital signal processing I was going to use to create that sequences in Sound Forge 6.0 on my PC.

Once I got all that stuff
completed and out the way, the other songs for the mix were chosen almost "divinely" after I had listened to Christa's performances over and over again while listening to many different records at the same time. I had some guidance as I knew some of Christa favorites, like EW&F and Me'shell NdegeOcello. I also knew she wanted to experiment with electronic styles ( like Techno, D&B, House). So with that small of a "lead", I wasn't really getting anywhere until an hour or so later, I just took off the head phone and listened to the words on Christa's works with more intensity. It was at that point that the "magic" of the project kicked in and I sat in front of a computer and turntable; quickly finding songs that matched in some way the messages that Christa was gifting to us the listeners of her works. For fun I even found a "chop'd & screw'd" Mary J Blige track. "My Life". I thought it rhythmically matched the track before it so I chopped it up even more in some spots, but decided to speed it up from the original. Screwing (or slowing down a track to a "bounceable" tempo, named fro the late DJ Screw) was popular in the '90s when I was living down South...way back in the day. I dig it...way slow...droned out style. But when it comes to low beats per minute songs, folks either feel it or they don't. Besides the fact that i was playing with "Ms. Mary's voice"?!?...folk might get upset!! So I cut the track a bit short as well.

Blah, Blah, Blah....

I hope you enjoy listening to the mix as much as I enjoyed making it. Hopefully you will come to the Electric Tea Garden (1402 E. Pike) to see Christa spin her own set on April 18th.

Songs mixed and remixed by Bujiblak

Track listing below:

video

SOUNDS FROM THE INNER SANCTUM [Vol. 1 ] Length - 30 min., 58 sec.

Emile de Leon - Gong and Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation (sounds used for intro and outro) Christa Bell - If She don't come (acapella) *MF DOOM - My Favourite Ladies (instrumental) Earth Wind & Fire - Clover Christa Bell - 1001 Holy names for coochie Me'shell NdegeOcello - Andromeda & the Milky Way Mary J. Blige - My Life (Skrew'd & Chop'd) Lyn Collins -Think Christa Bell - The Too Much (acapella) *Squarepusher - The Exploding Psychology (instrumental) *NOMUMBAH - ELA (YORUBA SOUL DUB) Christa Bell -- Wangari Maathai *These songs are mixed with recordings of Christa's acapella performances.

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