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Singing With the Lexie Mountain Choir

April 29, 2008






Though it sounds like a kinky personal ad, the above enticement is lifted from a recent Lexie Mountain promotional e-mail. Another caps-heavy missive described her then-upcoming recording session, held last Monday at the Red Room at Normals Books and Records, as “HECKLE TIME USA.” Intrigued and a touch nervous–just what would “creative heckling” entail?!–Noise joined about eight others for the hourlong, mostly a cappella performance that may end up on a solo live LP released by Holy Mountain next year.

Initially expecting a show that just happened to be recorded, the disarray of the Red Room–which doubles as Normals’ storage space–hinted at something more impromptu and unusual. In fact, the performance was a recording session, and the “audience” was soon put to work. To both relief and disappointment, however, heckling was off the agenda.

Lexie Mountain–nee Alexandra Macchi–had set up her equipment, including a sampler, several microphones, a laptop, a chunky black cassette recorder, and a box of tapes, toward the back of the room. After thanking the attendees, she explained we were to kick things off by wildly clapping and cheering for a full minute while she recorded us on cassette. The idea was that after performing each song she would play our earlier, canned reaction while we cheered over it in real-time. Those first unsure seconds, after she flipped the recorder on, were quickly amplified into raucous yelps, whistles, catcalls, and laughter.

The self-conscious silliness and the artifice of the exercise did strange things to time: it was difficult to tell if the pretend mirth had just lasted 60 seconds. It felt much longer, as several times the enthusiasm petered out–people looking expectantly at one another until someone whooped or stomped their feet, and suddenly we were all at it again with renewed vigor, like it was a competition, the volume rising in a subtle crescendo of cheers.

In the afterglow of participation–feeling part of it, though the performance hadn’t precisely started yet–with throats a bit raw, palms a tad sore, next we learned our lines for the first song. Describing the theme as “overblown” and “petulant pageantry,” Macchi coached us on a few, longer variations of the chorus before settling on the honed-down, easy-to-remember chorus of “Oh my god/ Miss America,” which was chanted real slow and low, drawing out each syllable like the measured rhythms of a work song. Meanwhile, Macchi layered and looped her own voice till the song harked back to the raw, unadorned sacred-harp choirs. Further playing off that gospel vibe, at song’s end, Macchi sampled a bluesy preacher’s sermon from her stash of cassette tapes.

The rest of the songs had a similar stripped-down feel, and the audience, upon Macchi’s requests, improvised sounds with whatever was readily available: shouting out random words or shuffling their chairs across the hard wood floor. Each song riffed on the power of one voice slowly stacked upon itself–aural decoupage–until the room seemed flush with singers. There were moments when the Red Room felt a bit like a sanctified church–those small, resourceful congregations that can turn any old place, from a former movie palace to a strip-mall shop, into a house of worship. With those churches in mind, the ramshackle Red Room, already a multiuse space, felt especially fitting for an evening of secularized avant-spirituals.

“I can’t play instruments very well, and I’m sort of tone deaf and flat, so I’m the easiest person for me to harmonize with,” Macchi explains via e-mail. “When I play solo, I’m pretty nervous and I also don’t plan things out very well, so I can’t say I really intended to do anything specific. But sermons, storefront churches, choir practice, and the passion of faith are certainly influences.”

Macchi also mentioned that she will be recording again, for the release, later this spring.

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