The duo of LA-based drummer Joseph Berardi and singer and multi-instrumentalist Kira Vollman first surfaced in the late 1980s. After early experiments for vocal and percussion, they began to explore a richer palette of sounds, incorporating accordion, cello, clarinets, keyboards, viola, marimba, bass and radio. Such was their thirst for chromatic wealth that the duo apparently tried to broaden the format by co-opting other musicians, an attempt that eventually failed.
Their strength lies in Kyra Vollman’s capricious vocalizations rooted in the heritage of musical theater and the traditions pre-dating 19th century bel canto. But her classically trained vocal ability strays often onto operatic arias, haunting siren songs, menacing lectures – all delivered at a clip elusive even for an attentive ear. The sound perfectionism is achieved through ample access to the duo’s Zauberklang studio. The textural wealth of their material belies the predominantly improvisation-based musical creativity.
This is musica di camara moderna of the highest order. It was, therefore, with great pleasure that the globally dispersed audience welcomed the long delayed update on Non Credo’s oeuvre.
NUDO E CRUDO
Carried by an orderly harpsichord continuo, Kyra Vollman commences her recitativo secco. Her classically trained voice, laid against the spiky keyboard strokes, inevitably brings comparisons to Opus Avantra. But when her clean, lyric soprano goes arioso, she is more dramatic and serious than Donella del Monaco ever was. The aria decelerates exhibiting her light, flexible tone.
8 Bit Whore
This is the first time Joseph Berardi unleashes his flaring matrix of samples and percussion. Entering with a snare drum he will refocus our attention like a magician. This is a blindfold test that even the most attentive listener will struggle with. First an old, edgy jazz trumpet emerges from Berardi’s keyboard-induced samples. When exotica congas begin their jabber we are transported to the cigar-filled dens of early 1950s Cuba. Dark piano arpeggios do not disrupt the quick runs of a damned, wild rumba. An atmosphere of Santeria jazz is further bolstered by sampled tenor saxophone. Over this plethora of references, only a live bass clarinet makes some brief, free commentaries. Do not expect it to sing in Spanish…
Hubris and Greed
An engaging contrast sets in between wild, obsessive woodpecking and indifferent humming. Vollman whispers a text about a miser bum – formerly a failed stand-up comic. She conveys this rather sad story with no compassion, on the contrary – there are shades of spite. The doorway cracks, opening the way to traumatic giallo of groovy Italian films. These samples approach the innocuous suspension of a vintage Ennio Morricone or Piero Piccioni. Vollman’s recites the text with a low-pitched, critical, almost perverse voice which contrasts with her trained, clear vocalizations.
Dull, deadpan thuds and backwardated buzz reach us from Berardi’s sample bank. In a display of melismatic virtuosity, Vollman the Witch meets here her operatic persona.
For a fraction of a moment, a Philip Jeck-like old record scratching suffocates us with ample color of the bygone era – lupine, vermillion, chamois, ochre. Vollman’s exuberant vocal show ranges from contralto rapping scat and non-descript coloratura to extortionate theatrical firecrackers. Her range is so extreme and the transitions appear so latex-smooth that Shelley Hirsch’s early experiments come to mind.
Vollman’s bass clarinet is left here alone, struggling with sampled, mechanic, piston and cylinder cum bass sample, known from Marie Goyette’s exquisite recordings. Given the slightly minimalist background, the bass clarinet soundpainting evokes John Surman’s electronic period, even though the sound palette is very different here. The track ends up on a pyre.
Deep, Deep Down
Again the affected, exorbitantly accentuated story-telling reminds us of Shelly Hirsch. Kyra Vollman goes guttural, jumps over to fricatives, nearly chokes on ingressives, excels in oval vocalizations, then gargles and regurgitates duck-like semi-diphthongs. All along an organ sympathizes with the vocal boneless wonder.
This time Berardi offers us sampled strings. In itself, such a trite proceeding could almost lull us into somnolence, but there is a novelty here – a m e l o d y. The suspense is (again) redolent of Italian film style of 1960s and 1970s. Even though the rhythmic buoyancy tends to fingerpoint mirth, the actual vocal effect is haunting and intimidating. Vollman’s vocal strings rise so effortlessly that the texture pleads for some friction. Graters and metal gongs are au service, bringing back a more terrestrial atmosphere.
Heaven Help Us
A tight, nervous, mysterious cry for help with Vollman officiating in two roles – a naïve one and an experienced one. Some metallic clang and a refined basso underpin this modern cantata.
A babble arises from a crowd. A crankshaft volunteers a clank: “Clank”.
This second movement of “Impropera” begins simplistically, with a rhythm machine and a melodica. Clobbered, marching music depicts a nightmarish vision of person locked up in Bangkok “on trumped up charges”. A guitar, crawling ad libitum, responds with jangles while the bass clarinet performs over a sampled piano form. The melodica swishes back. Despite a very contemporary production, it is here that we recognize Kyra Vollman from her prudish-sounding debuts some 20 years before. A string-like sample eventually takes over, cut up to pieces by the melodica’s flat-footed, pathetically constrained, plastic improvisation.
Stock and Trade
Another diplay of vocal Fireworks from Vollman. Bubbly, gaseous electronics is overpowered by a thorny effect – as if someone let a metal bar hit running wheel spokes. Jaded warnings echo “nothing new”. Samples glue distant drumming and a barely perceptible groans.
This is a depressing story of abandon – with a devastatingly simple, horrifying electronic pulse that occasionally triggers log drumming. Vollman’s impudent recitativo seamlessly yields to soprano arias. Her demoniac whisper spits out some macabre lines. It seems that the bass clarinet parts are little more than an extension of her considerable vocal techniques. In any case, her staccato tonguings appear to indicate it.
Odor of Sanctity
More inertial, expansive bass clarinet lays out its dusty souvenirs without urge. Vollman’s treatment is first breathy, then moves to a fuller tone, particularly impressive in the mid-range. The samples showcase furtive strumming, augmented by Bernardi on long drums. The clarinet’s tremolo rides epicycles around sampled Byzantine touches. This is Non Credo at its most atmospheric and ill-bient.
In a dreary, industrialized repetition metallic wrenches hit some object regularly, while backward tapes collect distorted voices.
“Impropera’s” third movement begins with dilated, kimberlite prepared piano chords, ladle-full of Cageian nostalgia (“Sonatas and Interludes”). Manifold keyboard sheets are overlaid, some muted, some metallic, accompanied by shell-shocked percussive blasts. Meanwhile, Vollman impersonates a seductive siren from an aquatic, Greek myth. Detonating rhythms distract her into a baritone-like phrasing, even though her voice cannot reach that pitch.
A tabla sample was clearly picked for the dud resonance rather than intricate Indian meters. Rotary patterns let the music flow slowly, despite all the fluttering, honking or factory sirens. Sirens? Well, not really. When the sample is allowed to fan out fully, it proves to be a jazz big band. It is an eerily familiar sequence, but I cannot recognize the source (if you can – please leave a comment below – I am not going to venture a guess that this is Count Basie). Vollman’s bass clarinet improvises all along, which is formally captivating; bass clarinets usually bend easily and do not have a projection that allows them to come to the fore from a full big band backing. The prepared piano returns, in an emotional, malleable moment. So does the washboard.
The track opens with a marching snare drum. But the jolt comes from the castanets’ sticky kiss. Vollman’s detached vocalizations turn into angry complaints about “a lie”. Then a trio of harpsichord, castanets and snares prepares the ground for operatic soprano aria. Glockenspiel’s transparent tinge seeps through it all. In her insolence-inspiring martial whispers Vollman tends to sound Germanic – her consonants are devoiced and stilted, vowels angular and glottal. Is it a pastiche? Not more than American actors’ performance in some of the older “Second World War” movies.
This epilogue takes us back to harpsichord continuo and recitativo secco from the opening. Upon reflection, Vollman’s dramatic mannerism probably brings her reaches an octave higher than the Italian counterpart, referred to at the beginning. The harpsichord is too busy to be just a classic obbligato. Rather, its arpeggiated ad-lib facets evoke the instrument’s rebirth parented by modern virtuosi and their partners – the 20th century composers.
For a ‘band’ whose productions have been appearing for 20 years, the total output has been relatively thin. Of the three official CD, I consider their last one as the most accomplished.
NON CREDO: “Reluctant Host” (1988)
NON CREDO: “Happy Wretched Family” (1992-1994)
NON CREDO: “Impropera” (2006)
Non Credo’s tracks can also be found on several compilations, such as “Bad Alchemy Nr 11” and “Poetic Silhouettes”.
Prior to forming Non Credo, Berardi played in a quirky art-pop combo Fibonaccis. They have left behind several recordings, the most prominent of which bears some resemblance to Non Credo’s early format:
FIBONACCIS: “Civilization and its Discotheques” (1987)
Both Vollman and Berardi have been appearing in numerous other formations – Fat and Fucked Up, Kraig Grady, Punishment Cookies (she), Double Naught Spy Car, Obliteration Quartet, Eastside Sinfonietta (he). Although the duo has apparently contributed music to many films and performances, none of this material is currently publicly available.