Hannah Silva review: Hard to comprehend but impossible to ignore

Hannah Silva. Photo: E. Long.

Hannah Silva. Photo: E. Long. - Credit: Archant

Letters tumble and words collapse into each other on the cover of Hannah Silva's new album Talk In A Bit. In her hands words are reshaped, taken apart and juggled into new and exciting configurations.

The poet's experimental and dynamic performances are a fitting debut release for Human Kind Records – a label specialising in music and spoken word recordings. Hannah brought her unique sounds to the Norwich Arts Centre in an avant-garde opening to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

Hannah was joined by a drummer and a keyboardist kneeling among a bulky collection of old synths. The two created a heavy drone as Hannah began reciting the opening piece on the album 'Writing to someone else's music'. With audible words and even full sentences this was a gentle start. By the second piece all the words had been twisted into new sounds to be distorted and manipulated as Hannah sampled, processed and looped her vocals live. She took on the roles of poet, actor and musician with tight and emotional delivery. Some of the sounds originated as tongue exercises learnt during a failed attempt to be the world's best recorder player. They provided weird and intricate rhythms to her vocal sound collage.

Later she was joined by renowned Japanese sound poet Tomomi Adachi who added dance and bespoke technology to the mix. Dressed in jackets rigged with infra-red sensors, the two artists performed a duet called Pluto is a Planet. The piece did not offer any coherent argument for this claim but it was an extraordinary piece of sound poetry. As the artists belted out words and noises in elaborate and tightly coordinated patterns they gestured and danced to manipulate the sound via the sensors covering their bodies. It was not easy listening but even the most conservative observer could not deny the skill and imagination brought to the stage.

Hannah proved to be a versatile performer throughout the set contrasting the dreamy This Air, an unaccompanied and relatively conventional poem, with a storming noise-fuelled rendition of Pain – a poem constructed from every instance of pain in Fifty Shades of Grey, followed by surreal Monotone Man accompanied by a soundscape of abstract electronics and singing bowls.

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She brought her innovative approach to pieces inspired by the New Orleans floods, art installations and prostitutes in Berlin. Tomomi Adachi returned for a rapid, multilayered finale with all four performers. It was a baffling and exhilarating end to the show by a poet with a voice that may be hard to comprehend but is impossible to ignore.

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