HOWL | REVIEW | a concert exploring dreams, Gaelic folk tunes, ancient music and contrapuntal music from Venezuela

HOWL | Photo (c) Monika S Jakubowska

Kings Place, London

By Will Snell

Sound Unwrapped, Kings Place’s year-long festival showcasing immersive sonic events is well underway. Throughout 2023, the venue is giving the opportunity to a host of artists and ensembles to share their work utilising an extraordinary soundscape system designed and installed by sound technology manufacturer d&b audiotechnik. On this occasion, HOWL, a vocal nonet (though an octet on this occasion due to an absence) comprising of women from a variety of musical backgrounds, performed a selection of their own compositions and arrangements of works harking from folk and choral traditions worldwide. Pieces  inspired by performers’ dreams, Gaelic folk tunes, ancient music and contrapuntal music from Venezuela were all explored.

Onto a central island stage the eight trooped, looking cool and largely clad in a selection of colourful, oversized suits. The soundscape system surrounded the audience, which, in turn, surrounded the artists. When they sang, it felt like the music they produced came from deep within the skull – it was permeating and enthralling. Pieces were broken up by occasional snippets of soundscapes, some natural, others industrial. These had less of a sonic bite than the live performance and cast the audience adrift a little in consequence.

HOWL are brilliant soloistic performers that combine as a splendid whole. Their sound lacks an absolute blend – presumably owing to the differing artistic backgrounds from which the individuals hail – but this is no weakness. Theirs is a unique sound that boasts vibrance, depth and a whole spectrum of auditory colour. However, when the group reduced its forces to 3 or 4 singers, as was frequent during the evening’s performance, their confidence seemed to dwindle, along with some of their otherwise ever-present technical finesse. 

Another snag of the evening was the programming – or rather, the approach to performance given the programming. An hour flashed by, entertaining but unsettled. Short piece followed short piece with minimal cohesion or time taken to breathe in between, nor any sense of thematic progression or narrative. This was a snatchy highlight reel of the brilliance of which HOWL are quite evidently capable. 

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