Roomful of Teeth is an acapella group (with a drum on the first song). The singers all tend to sing notes (or words) in a rather unsettling style. As the blurb says, “Mix a bit of yodeling with Tuvan throat singing, add in a pinch of Sardinian cantu a tenore, fold in compositions from cutting-edge composers and you have the vocal group Roomful of Teeth. This eight-voice ensemble, which includes the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, is gleefully dismantling the traditional definition of ensemble singing right before our ears (and teeth!)…. The agility of the voices and multicolored blend they achieve are extraordinary.”
And that’s all so accurate. Everything is kind of unsettling and strangely beautiful. But definitely unsettling.
The first song was written by Australian Wally Gunn and is called “The Fence Is Gone.” There are so many different sections. It reminds me a lot of the middle of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother. With singers having an almost atonal operatic movement. But in between lyrics, the vocalists are largely singing going “oh ha” or just “bah bah.” It’s really fascinating. And the more I listen to it the more I wonder how they know just what (somewhat unusual) note to sing. The blurb adds: “verses emerge from an infrastructure of “oh-ha” syllables and a simple drum pulse, ending with women’s voices, tight in harmony, like a chord from a Casio keyboard.” That Casio remark is pretty spot on.
Before the second song, one of the men says that the “women are going to so do a song.” The men leave and Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View” begins with a kind of yodeling (really good yodeling). After which the three remaining women sing a beautify low melody very hymn-like. Then the yodeling comes back (with some beautiful high notes at the end). Then they all come together to do the the yodelling melody very pretty harmonies. The blurb adds “In Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View,” imagine a lonely cowgirl on some windswept plain. Estelí Gomez gets her yodel on, beautifully, while the three other women vocalize in close, barbershop-style harmony. It literally ends on a high note.” When the four are singing together, it’s really pretty.
The final song was written by the founder of the group, Brad Wells. “Otherwise” features some very intense bass notes from the men and high notes from the women. The blurb says “Warm, rounded tones in male voices contrast with a steely sheen from the women and a high drone like a Tibetan singing bowl. The harmonies take a tangy, almost Bulgarian turn, then we get something truly otherworldly. A pulsing, slightly creepy Sardinian “bim-bom” vocalise buzzes like a gigantic cicada.” The Bulgarian comment is really spot in as the women absolutely sound like the Bulgarian choirs. And that “bim bim bom” section is so alien and otherworldly. I love when they throw in some little “hey ya” mixed in. But the most amazing thing has to be “Dashon Burton’s operatic baritone [which] soars above it all.” His voice is really intense.
At first I didn’t really like their music, but after a few listens I could really appreciate what they were doing.
[READ: May 1, 2016] Human Body Theater
Maris Wicks is the illustrator for another First Second non-fiction book I loved called Primates. I thought her drawings were perfect (and also really cute). And she has done it again. Never have brains and bowels and viruses and allergies been so adorable!
But despite the cuteness of the drawings (and the title), this is a real, genuine nonfiction book about the human body.
Wicks covers just about everything you might want to know about how our bodies work. It is geared toward children (she does discuss reproduction, but in very basic terms), but it is full of so many details that I think many adults will find they learn things from this book. I know I sure did.
Our host for the revue is a skeleton. The skeleton tells us what we can expect in this performance. And despite guesses about some major organs, the skeleton explains that we will start with tiny cells.
We take a look inside our cells (cytoplasm, nucleus, golgi bodies, mitochondria–each one of these has its own shape and color and they are all pretty cute). We learn that they are all made of atoms.
Then we move on the skeletal system. We learn all of the bones (and that a skeleton couldn’t possibly stand up by itself). We learn how they grow and how they can break! Then we see joints and ligaments and then….
The muscular system. We see all the muscles and how they work. And how they get hurt (with a horse named Charlie helping out). There’s skeletal muscles, cardiac muscles and visceral muscles.
Then there’s the respiratory system. We see the classic “inside the body” drawings and close up of lungs and bronchioles. You even learn why you get the hiccups and why cigarettes are bad for you.
The Cardiovascular System follows our blood cells (cute little balls of oxygen). We learn about the heart and then we also witness when we bleed (starring “the finger,”who is pretty cross at being poked with a pin). There’s even a very cool diagram of why our cuts swell before they clot and scab.
The best part was the Digestive System, of course. Because, Wicks shows us exactly what happens to a peanut butter and banana sandwich from the moment we eat it until, some 12-24 hours later when we get rid of it. Follow it to the stomach, the duodenum, the small and large intestines, when our food goes from a pink blob to a brown solid (ew). Learn also why we burp and fart, why we get stomach aches, and what makes us throw up There’s even a scary gastroenteritis creature.
She also tells us something I never heard before–that doctors believe your appendix may play an important part in the immune system’s development–it may act as a special storage area for healthy gut bacteria.
The excretory system talks all about peeing. But more importantly it talks about how important water is to our bodies. Something we all know, but seeing it illustrated really makes it sink in. (You could pee 1-2 liters a day)
The endocrine system is all about hormones, which are little mailmen delivering messages to all parts of your body–melatonin, dopamine, adrenaline, insulin (all so cute)
The reproductive system shows the basic difference between males and females and then shows what happens during puberty (hair and BO and incredible growth spurts). There’s even a bit about pregnancy.
Then its on to the immune system, where we see our natural defense–mucus, tears and saliva (all cute) and then the meanies: bacteria, virus and protozoans (mean but still cute). Learn what a virus does when it gets inside of you and even what these bad guys can do to your teeth. Even though your body has natural defenses against things, it’s also important to get vaccinated! This section also shows what your body does when it gets an allergy attack–fascinating!
Then its on to the nervous system and our brain. Look inside at the synapses and dendrites and then watch what happens when you poke your finger with pen (poor finger) and the signals get transmitted to your brain.
Protect your head! Your skull is a natural defense for it, but helmets are important too. It reminds us that headaches are brought on by tension, eyestrain and even dehydration (drink your water!) as well as other things, of course.
Then there’s our senses. Watch as the nose and tongue fend off things they don’t recognize. Watch sound waves and light waves (and determine if how you see actually make sense–it doesn’t to me). Take a look inside your ear as well and see that earwax is actually good for you!
Wicks even includes American Sign language and braille
And then watch as the skeleton puts it all together inside of herself to become Maris!
The end of the book includes a simple but helpful glossary, too.
This is an excellent book for anyone learning very basic biology. It takes the pretty mundane stuff that you get in a textbook and makes it really fun. And as I say I learned quite a lot too.
Even though I love the First Second fiction, their nonfiction collection is quite outstanding. #10yearsof01