Nour Mobarak’s conceptual projects are intriguing on paper and thrilling in execution. For her 2019 debut album, Father Fugue (Recital), the Cairo-born, Los Angeles-based artist created a homey collage of voice recordings. Its first half includes conversations with her father, Jean Mobarak, who speaks several languages but is only capable of retaining memories for 30 seconds. The two conjure an atmosphere of intimacy and an energizing spirit as they riffle through a variety of topics in English, Arabic, French, and Italian. These simple voices are overlaid with more vocalizing, which manifests as songs, exuberant warm-ups, and extended vocal techniques. For all its experimental qualities, the album is surprisingly cozy, and it suggests that many avant-garde vocal practices have roots in run-of-the-mill childhood experiences, such as hearing lullabies or reciting rhymes during schoolyard games.
On the second half of the album, Mobarak sings songs in different settings, including her shower and her car. In positioning these tracks after the pieces featuring her father, she leads us to understand how language is in some ways passed down through the everyday communications with loved ones through the cadences, rhythms, and melodies we favor.
Mobarak takes a different tack for performances. On her live recordings, such as 2020’s You Are the Audience (the Tapeworm) and 3 Performance Works (Takuroku), she uses more electronic manipulation to toy with the voice, forcing deeper consideration of the specific sonic qualities of individual phonemes. Last year’s Sphere Studies and Subterranean Bounce is especially conceptually rigorous—she worked with a multichannel installation to explore the sounds of the fungus mycelium. At her upcoming performances at the Renaissance Society, Mobarak will move around the gallery space while a real-time location system tracks her movements in order to trigger and modify sounds from a bank of recorded phonemes, which will be delivered through an eight-channel system surrounding the audience; she’ll vocalize on her own as well. Given that this technological system was created specifically for these events, I expect Mobarak to be at her most adventurous.
Nour Mobarak Audience members may come and go during the performance. The concert is free, but registration is requested. Sat 11/12, 6-9 PM & Sun 11/13, 3-6 PM, Renaissance Society, Cobb Hall (fourth floor), University of Chicago, 5811 S. Ellis, free, all ages