Last Night: Overtone Singer Stuart Hinds at Lawndale

At first, Christie Blizard's centerpiece installation from her "from the tipi project" exhibit at Lawndale Art Center seemed to be a fitting three-dimensional backdrop for Thursday night's Stuart Hinds concert.

Hinds, a musician and composer, is as an overtone singer whose repertoire includes Native American ritual songs.

However, a closer examination of Blizard's canvas-constructed shelter -- dotted with bold, graffiti-like spray paint designs -- coupled with a few moments spent with Hinds's music, yielded a severe contrast between the two artistic accomplishments.

Overtone singing, in simple terms, is achieved when a vocalist produces two notes at the same time in the same pitch. Instrumentalists can also coax overtones out of, say, a saxophone. For example, a skilled woodwind player can go between a middle and high C, even if the octave key is depressed.

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Hinds told last night's crowd of approximately 20 gatherers that, via years of training (most of it self-taught), he's transcended the fundamental overtone phenomenon and can modulate his voice to produce a note and its companion octave and a third, octave and a fifth, etc. In other words, unlike a majority of overtone or throat singers, Hinds doesn't just produce steady drones.

While Hinds displayed impressive technical chops inside of Lawndale's John M. O'Quinn Gallery, the artistic merit just wasn't there. Basically, we got the idea after about 30 seconds into the hour-long concert, leaving 59-and-a-half minutes to steal glances at Blizard's more interesting art piece.

Hinds's two opening salvos were vocal-only pieces. The artist called the latter, "Renaissance Man," his signature piece, and Art Attack could see why: The composition was reminiscent of a 16th-century choral music mass produced by a choir of one.

Hinds then camped out behind a small keyboard -- which was often programmed to produce the most potent new-age sounds this side of Santa Fe, New Mexico -- and a microphone. That's when the music became impalpable, but not in a good way.

It's not the point, in music reviews, to pigeonhole something into a genre that's laced with music-critic speak. We like a challenge and welcome a slap upside the head with something that goes beyond snobbish witticisms. Hinds's performance -- too refined to be rousing, too straight-laced to be stirring and, sadly, too new age-y to be taken seriously -- just wasn't it.

Leon Thomas and Jimmie Rodgers were vocal kings who would step outside of the boundaries of straight-ahead delivery by yowling and yodeling. If the left-field interspersions were all that they did, it would become grating after a while. In our opinion, Hinds could fabricate a more gripping sound if he combined traditional-sung sections with some of his exceptional overtone techniques.

Hinds, the consummate trooper, ended his endurance concert a bit prematurely. He tried and tried some more to knock out his final number, but coughing fits prevented him from doing so.

The crowd gave an extended applause. Though it was probably because they recognized that Hinds had given his all, it's possible that they were thrilled to hear something different (the coughing) after 60 minutes of sameness.

Stuart Hinds will perform at Space 125 Gallery, 3201 Allen Parkway, at 8 p.m. Thursday, December 8, and at Super Happy Fun Land, 3801 Polk Street, at 8 p.m. Saturday, December 10. For more information, check out the artist's website.

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