With album titles such as Coalescence: Harmonic Singing in a Water Tower and Godspace, and a performing ensemble named Spectral Voices, it is easy to see that the west coast vocalist and composer Jim Cole is not involved in cruising-for-burgers type music. His kingdom lies somewhere between new age and avant-garde, and he is no doubt personally unhappy accepting either label as a description of anything. At least Spectral Voices can be accurately depicted as an a cappella group, one that specifically uses human voices to create music based on overtones. Each of the vocalists of the group are involved in what is known as harmonic overtone singing, or creating two or more notes at the same time. Cole and the ensemble are particularly in rapture with reverberant spaces, hence the decision to record not just one but an entire trilogy of releases inside a grand old water tower.
Cole says hearing recordings of Tibetan monks in 1991, and other vocal phenomenon such as the work of Timothy Hill and David Hykes, were a huge inspiration. Previously he had been something of a strum-dumb acoustic guitar player in college, with next to no interest in using his voice. He also spent time in Thailand in the Peace Corps, where he became fluent in Thai. From this experience developed Cole's so-called "day job" since the late '80s, assisting incoming refugees in finding employment. He began singing with the Hearing Solar Winds ensemble in the early '90s, but more for relaxation than the pursuit of fortune and fame. His interest in utilizing certain spaces for singing began around this time, leading him and his pals to hang around in church sanctuaries, stone crypts, and the like, making eerie noises and droning. "This was the beginning of our journey toward ambient vocal space music," Cole reminisced in an interview.
Indeed, Spectral Voices grew out of these sessions, involving Cole's close collaborator Alan Dow. Other members include Jim Desmond and Geoffrey Brown. Cole has also worked with the improvisatory ensemble Leland Burr, and collaborated with tuba player and composer Tom Heasley. The vocalist continues to deal with interesting variations on the relationship between performing and specific sites. These include the medieval concept of a "labyrinth walk," a stately and purposeful stroll through a labyrinth accompanied by weird singing, and house concerts in which the vocalists show up in someone's house and do their thing. Still, his real tour de force seems to have been an impromptu performance of the "Star Spangled Banner" in an attempt to discourage police from arresting Cole and his colleagues for, well, breaking into a water tower to sing. The story does not have the same type of happy ending one finds in legends such as that of harmonica player Junior Wells, who, by playing a few choruses of blues, persuaded a judge to let him go for stealing the harmonica . Cole and friends were arrested anyway. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
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