Vocal Art 

Sussan Deyhim's voice penetrates your inner space while it awakens "Rapture."

Since moving to New York City in the mid-'70s, Deyhim has collaborated as vocalist, composer and performance artist with Richard Horowitz, Peter Gabriel, Jah Wobble and dozens of other musicians. A pioneer in world music, she revels in the tension between traditionalism and progressivism in the arts. Growing up in a liberal family in Teheran, Deyhim's first training was in dance. Her ballet teacher introduced her to works by Stockhausen and Bartok, often choreographed along with traditional Persian music.

Like Shirin Neshat, for whom she has composed and often performed the scores for several video works, Deyhim left Iran before the 1979 revolution when conservative Muslim forces came to power. Deyhim has said that being unable to return to Iran for many years influenced her interest in exploring the musical traditions of her culture, Persia, which has its roots in Sufism and mysticism.

The score Deyhim composed for Neshat's installation "Rapture" grounds viewers in the physical location (perceived to be Iran) but is not so articulate as to distract from the narrative of the images. She layers and juxtaposes instrumental and vocal rhythms, recordings of chanted prayers and ululations, and wordless solos. At times, the figures on one screen stop and listen to the sounds coming, as it were, from the other screen. Visitors to the installations, standing in the middle space, must let the sound pass through them as if they were not audience but the space itself.

In the CD liner notes for "Turbulent," Deyhim's collection of music for four of Neshat's video works, she writes that she understands music, especially "the dark sensuality of Islamic music" as being "involved with the annihilation of self as a threshold to a world within/without." As audience, we surely also engage in this annihilation. We open ourselves, our inner space, to the performance; as we watch and listen, we aren't entirely ourselves, but whatever the performance is making us into.

Deyhim fuses old and new, electronic and acoustic, East and West, until boundaries, while still perhaps present, aren't what they used to be. In her solo work, "Vocadeliks," the emphasis is on the music being created, not where it's coming from in time or space. She will perform "Vocadeliks" as part of the Virginia Museum's Fast/Forward series, and her work as a composer, arranger and performer can be heard accompanying Shirim Neshat's installation from April 6 to June 2. S


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