In a career spanning two decades, the New York-based composer and recording artist Toby Twining has "set a standard for the stylistically unrestricted exploration of voice music...using elements as diverse as jazz improvisation, contemporary classical pointillism and repetitions, ethnic throat singing, doo-wop, yodels, vocal sound effects and a few utterly unclassifiable techniques that are uniquely their own" (The Los Angeles Times). His forthcoming album, Eurydice, culminates years of vocal music innovations Twining has made since the runaway success of his 1994 debut, Shaman, which propelled him to acclaim well beyond the world of new music, including numerous appearances on Garrison Kiellor's A Prairie Home Companion. Cantaloupe Music will release Eurydice on February 22, offering an utterly different but equally joyful alternative to the a capella music currently at the center of mainstream pop culture.
The album's emotional terrain spans from the energy and promise of youth in "Playing in the Waves" and "Yes! Yes! Yes!" (whose groove-oriented style recalls Shaman) to the ominous, wormhole-like "Eurydice's Fall." "I want to make music with vocal sounds and harmonies that are truly inventive, but accessible for anyone open to listening," says Twining.
Eurydice began as a score for Sarah Ruhl's play of the same name, directed by Blanka Zizka and produced for the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia in 2008. The play reinterprets the classic myth of Orpheus, telling the story from Eurydice's point of view and including a reunion with her father in the underworld.
Composing for four singers and a cello, Twining delights in this underworld, which he found to be the perfect environment - quirky, funny and dangerous - for a variety of surprising vocal effects: tremolos, overtones and ingressive croaks. He employs a male soprano, Eric Brenner, for an unaccompanied solo in "The Book." "The String Room" is an eloquent solo for cello with vocal accompaniment, punctuated by tall, languid jazz chords and vivid overtone singing. In "Orpheus at the Gates", a forty-part operatic aria depicts Orpheus' transformation from self-absorbed composer to heroic lover.
In realizing this range of music, Twining has developed an interest in the neuroscience of listening. He explains, "Research tells us how the brain processes harmony - that is, how neurons fire in response to musical pitches that relate to each other. My aim is to write music that triggers neurons in new ways, resulting in new harmonies. "Furthermore, Twining continues to wrestle with digital technology's unique ability to produce new chords, progressions, modulations, sonorities and melodic nuances. He traces this study back to John Cage: "Cage lectured in the early '80's at the University of Illinois, when I was a student there. It was prescient of him to remark, contrary to the usual hype about computers, that it increased rather than reduced his work. Though my artistic direction has gone quite differently from his, the effect of the computer on my work is similar. The computer makes it possible to sing and play harmonies that were previously impossible, or, at best, highly impractical. Now the possibilities are almost endless."
David Lang, the Pulitzer Prize-winning co-founder of Bang on a Can and Cantaloupe Music, enthuses, "If a voice can do it, Toby Twining does it. He and his singers manage to combine a mind-boggling assortment of vocal techniques from around the world, all in pursuit of the gracious, the beautiful and the emotionally direct."