This songbird
Mark Beasley

Different lives
In different places
Familiar problems
Same old faces
Shuffle lives
Into wrong categories
Cross the wires
And fuse humanities
Watch the muscles twitch
For a brand new switch …

(Switch, 1978
Siouxie and the Banshees)

At the entrance to the warehouse Tori Wrånes lies prone on the ground. As if giving birth to self her head juts from the crotch of a pair of yellow satin pants, her hands have been laced up with white
sneakers and bare legs thrust from the neck of an electric blue tracksuit. Stepping over the body the audience is seated as Wrånes is dragged across the floor to center stage to be hoisted high into the air where blue spotlights catch her upended figure as it slowly rises and rotates. Letting out a low vocal drone, she begins to sing and as the drones loop – engineered somewhere off stage – a melody builds and a composition forms layer upon layer. The effect is unsettling, a haunting serenade and welcome to the audience while simultaneously engaging with the internal roar and rush of blood as it moves down, crowding the ears of the singer. As the body sinks back to the ground, and the lights dim a choir of vocalists perched on bicycles appear from the gloom lit by the pulsing glow of dynamo-operated bike lamps, first silent then building in speed and song they sweep large and extended circles around the seated crowd while high in the rafters of the warehouse two saw players create pulsing ethereal tones. Commissioned for the Performa 13 New York biennial of visual arts performance Wrånes’ epic choreography YES NIX (2013) cut sonic swathes through the room, first vertically, then in literal surround sound as first a bike choir and then a troupe of elderly flute players
gather, blow and shuffle through center stage. As Wrånes has it “the world is the wildest multichannel sound-system ever” and her visual concerts – YES NIX is no exception – mirror such worldly audio
anarchy. Throughout Wrånes has a clear take on texture and tone, the actors-cum-performers are hand picked and dressed exactingly. From the outsized sneakers of New York street wear to her bizarre science-fantasy prosthetics Wrånes attuned touch for both the familiar and alien hits the sweet spot between the approved and the yet to be. A former singer in a pop band Wrånes weaves popular stagecraft with traces of avant-musical form and extended vocal technique from
Cage and La Monte Young’s drone to the tortured, energized and protesting cries of Yoko Ono or Diamanda Galas. Wrånes who spent nearly a decade touring the band is familiar with the form and theater of rock and roll, of bodies on stage and the gaze of the audience, and in turn recognizes the need to usefully subvert expectation, to trip up the tropes of rock-and-roll-schtick. Largely she’s feeling it out, it’s an organic sensibility, we’re not dealing with the artist as formalist here and throughout her many performances she looks to re-wire and complicate the social and spatial relations between performer(s) and audience, from communing with the sole user of a Norwegian ferry perched in a grand piano (Loose Cannon, 2010) strapped to the side of a cliff to populating a mountainside with a troll brass band (TRACK of HORNS, 2015). Cinematic and imagistic Wrånes psycho magical realism wouldn’t feel amiss in an Alejandro Jodorowsky or Leos Carax movie as surreal world’s and characters bump and collide. In simple terms Wrånes is a performer, a musician-cum-singercomposer yet this doesn’t accurately cover the scope, range, resonance or ambition of the work. After the constraints of the touring band format you can feel the liberating release of being allowed time to build out sets and create scenarios for new and improved audio relations. Challenges to singing are at the core of her work whether it be singing to a naked flame (Flash Face, 2011), being strapped to that cliff or being hung upside down, this songbird will sing. (In early years Wrånes
spent much of her childhood walking through the woods straining to hear the call of the birds with her ornithologist father). Wrånes visual concerts – a term she uses to define her work, performance deemed “too indistinct” – challenge the breadth, range and topography of music and specifically the voice. Pop and avant-form are riven through with extended vocal techniques from metal’s ultra fast grunting deathgrowl to Whitney Houston’s mellifluous melisma. Throughout Tori Wrånes’ many performances the performer’s voice is continually challenged, placed in environments and situations that force challenged expression. Wrånes performances, have a particular tone and tension, a result of the purposeful push and pull between sound and image. Her collaborators (fellow performers, musicians, dancers) or “full volume personalities” are choreographed, deployed and let loose against a controlled visual and audio backdrop. When first experiencing Wrånes work, I was reminded of the work of film director Claire Denis, specifically the final scene of her 1999 film Beau Travail (Good Work) in which the protagonist and agonized male – a stoic yet disgraced French Foreign Legion officer, played by the ruggedly alien looking Denis Lavant – dances in a nightclub to a Eurotrash dance track (Corona’s, The Rhythm of the Night, 1993.) As the music swells this formerly rugged
male – the preceding film leaves no doubt that life in the legion isonly for the tough – spins on his heels in camp and liberated ecstacy released from the suffocating codes of military masculinity. To my mind it’s one of the most exhilarating examples of dance to music ever caught on screen, a challenge to the grand narratives of fixed gender roles and the suggestion that somewhere deep within the reverse is also true. Yes, nix, maybe? Wrånes ensemble-compositions owe something to the tradition of the grand score or musical theater yet they eschew the epic and alienating bombast of say Stockhausen’s Stimmung or the solemnity of Robert Wilson’s experimental theater, there are no helicopters hovering or grandiose pronouncements regarding life as we understand it. They have more in common with the cinematic, fleeting moments and images, a collation of effects that ebb and flow building towards yet another surreal, disjointed yet entirely fitting image. These odd, curious
fantastic shapes and sounds employ dark humor and outré form what threatens to become camp theater gives way to more sinister intent or suggestion. In the closing section of YES NIX Wrånes swings like a pendulum through mid-air, intoning into a microphone-cum-flaregun at the center of the room as she get’s closer to the mic her voice gains velocity, power and presence. It’s an arresting image, singing truth to power, to the warning weapon. In recent months and over a series of exhibitions (Shapeshifters, Drastic Pants and A Mortal Song all 2016) Wrånes performances have
been further distilled, caught and made static. Sculptural objects suggest movement and the absent body, a figure leaps into the air assembled from sweatpants, outsized sneakers and white vest hung on a yoke while a black leather one-piece jumpsuit with blue pigmented hands sits poised ready to leap from a wall alongside paint splatted bean bags and abstract paintings all of which remind one that only through action, through performance and intent is a mark of any kind made. Wrånes re-wires perception, making the switch between forms, shuffling familiar binaries and disavowing overwrought statement in favor of the new song and new sound.
_________________________________________________________________________________

This songbird
Mark Beasley

Different lives
In different places
Familiar problems
Same old faces
Shuffle lives
Into wrong categories
Cross the wires
And fuse humanities
Watch the muscles twitch
For a brand new switch …

(Switch, 1978
Siouxie and the Banshees)

At the entrance to the warehouse Tori Wrånes lies prone on the ground. As if giving birth to self her head juts from the crotch of a pair of yellow satin pants, her hands have been laced up with white
sneakers and bare legs thrust from the neck of an electric blue tracksuit. Stepping over the body the audience is seated as Wrånes is dragged across the floor to center stage to be hoisted high into the air where blue spotlights catch her upended figure as it slowly rises and rotates. Letting out a low vocal drone, she begins to sing and as the drones loop – engineered somewhere off stage – a melody builds and a composition forms layer upon layer. The effect is unsettling, a haunting serenade and welcome to the audience while simultaneously engaging with the internal roar and rush of blood as it moves down, crowding the ears of the singer. As the body sinks back to the ground, and the lights dim a choir of vocalists perched on bicycles appear from the gloom lit by the pulsing glow of dynamo-operated bike lamps, first silent then building in speed and song they sweep large and extended circles around the seated crowd while high in the rafters of the warehouse two saw players create pulsing ethereal tones. Commissioned for the Performa 13 New York biennial of visual arts performance Wrånes’ epic choreography YES NIX (2013) cut sonic swathes through the room, first vertically, then in literal surround sound as first a bike choir and then a troupe of elderly flute players
gather, blow and shuffle through center stage. As Wrånes has it “the world is the wildest multichannel sound-system ever” and her visual concerts – YES NIX is no exception – mirror such worldly audio
anarchy. Throughout Wrånes has a clear take on texture and tone, the actors-cum-performers are hand picked and dressed exactingly. From the outsized sneakers of New York street wear to her bizarre science-fantasy prosthetics Wrånes attuned touch for both the familiar and alien hits the sweet spot between the approved and the yet to be. A former singer in a pop band Wrånes weaves popular stagecraft with traces of avant-musical form and extended vocal technique from
Cage and La Monte Young’s drone to the tortured, energized and protesting cries of Yoko Ono or Diamanda Galas. Wrånes who spent nearly a decade touring the band is familiar with the form and theater of rock and roll, of bodies on stage and the gaze of the audience, and in turn recognizes the need to usefully subvert expectation, to trip up the tropes of rock-and-roll-schtick. Largely she’s feeling it out, it’s an organic sensibility, we’re not dealing with the artist as formalist here and throughout her many performances she looks to re-wire and complicate the social and spatial relations between performer(s) and audience, from communing with the sole user of a Norwegian ferry perched in a grand piano (Loose Cannon, 2010) strapped to the side of a cliff to populating a mountainside with a troll brass band (TRACK of HORNS, 2015). Cinematic and imagistic Wrånes psycho magical realism wouldn’t feel amiss in an Alejandro Jodorowsky or Leos Carax movie as surreal world’s and characters bump and collide. In simple terms Wrånes is a performer, a musician-cum-singercomposer yet this doesn’t accurately cover the scope, range, resonance or ambition of the work. After the constraints of the touring band format you can feel the liberating release of being allowed time to build out sets and create scenarios for new and improved audio relations. Challenges to singing are at the core of her work whether it be singing to a naked flame (Flash Face, 2011), being strapped to that cliff or being hung upside down, this songbird will sing. (In early years Wrånes
spent much of her childhood walking through the woods straining to hear the call of the birds with her ornithologist father). Wrånes visual concerts – a term she uses to define her work, performance deemed “too indistinct” – challenge the breadth, range and topography of music and specifically the voice. Pop and avant-form are riven through with extended vocal techniques from metal’s ultra fast grunting deathgrowl to Whitney Houston’s mellifluous melisma. Throughout Tori Wrånes’ many performances the performer’s voice is continually challenged, placed in environments and situations that force challenged expression. Wrånes performances, have a particular tone and tension, a result of the purposeful push and pull between sound and image. Her collaborators (fellow performers, musicians, dancers) or “full volume personalities” are choreographed, deployed and let loose against a controlled visual and audio backdrop. When first experiencing Wrånes work, I was reminded of the work of film director Claire Denis, specifically the final scene of her 1999 film Beau Travail (Good Work) in which the protagonist and agonized male – a stoic yet disgraced French Foreign Legion officer, played by the ruggedly alien looking Denis Lavant – dances in a nightclub to a Eurotrash dance track (Corona’s, The Rhythm of the Night, 1993.) As the music swells this formerly rugged
male – the preceding film leaves no doubt that life in the legion isonly for the tough – spins on his heels in camp and liberated ecstacy released from the suffocating codes of military masculinity. To my mind it’s one of the most exhilarating examples of dance to music ever caught on screen, a challenge to the grand narratives of fixed gender roles and the suggestion that somewhere deep within the reverse is also true. Yes, nix, maybe? Wrånes ensemble-compositions owe something to the tradition of the grand score or musical theater yet they eschew the epic and alienating bombast of say Stockhausen’s Stimmung or the solemnity of Robert Wilson’s experimental theater, there are no helicopters hovering or grandiose pronouncements regarding life as we understand it. They have more in common with the cinematic, fleeting moments and images, a collation of effects that ebb and flow building towards yet another surreal, disjointed yet entirely fitting image. These odd, curious
fantastic shapes and sounds employ dark humor and outré form what threatens to become camp theater gives way to more sinister intent or suggestion. In the closing section of YES NIX Wrånes swings like a pendulum through mid-air, intoning into a microphone-cum-flaregun at the center of the room as she get’s closer to the mic her voice gains velocity, power and presence. It’s an arresting image, singing truth to power, to the warning weapon. In recent months and over a series of exhibitions (Shapeshifters, Drastic Pants and A Mortal Song all 2016) Wrånes performances have
been further distilled, caught and made static. Sculptural objects suggest movement and the absent body, a figure leaps into the air assembled from sweatpants, outsized sneakers and white vest hung on a yoke while a black leather one-piece jumpsuit with blue pigmented hands sits poised ready to leap from a wall alongside paint splatted bean bags and abstract paintings all of which remind one that only through action, through performance and intent is a mark of any kind made. Wrånes re-wires perception, making the switch between forms, shuffling familiar binaries and disavowing overwrought statement in favor of the new song and new sound.
_________________________________________________________________________________