Exploring sound and space
Israel’s Victoria Hanna is coming to Vancouver for the Chutzpah! Festival (photo from Chutzpah!)
Victoria Hanna is unique. There is no doubt that her concert at the Chutzaph! Festival on Feb. 23 will be one of the most uplifting and intriguing performances you’ve ever seen.
A longtime vocalist and performer, Hanna’s mainstream popularity skyrocketed last year when the video of her song “Aleph-Bet (Hosha’ana)” went viral. She describes herself as a voice artist, and the phrase does best describe her work. Though music is a large part of it, Hanna explores the sounds that we make when we speak, the physical mechanics required to form letters, diacritics (the nekudot in Hebrew) and words, their meanings and those of the space into which they travel. She uses her whole body as an instrument, singing, voicing beats, gesturing with her arms, tapping her chest, stamping her foot. She is mesmerizing to watch and hear.
“I am very curious about voice and speech,” Hanna told the Independent. “I had a stuttering problem and it made me enter deeply into the act of voice.”
When Forbes Israel chose the Jerusalem-based artist as one of the 50 most influential women in 2015, it noted as one of her most important messages: “If you have a disadvantage you can turn it into a kind of gift.”
Hanna grew up in Jerusalem in a religious family, “in which the language and elocution of prayer were valued, above all other arts,” notes her bio. Hence, her source material: texts such as Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation, traditionally ascribed to Abraham) and the writings of 13th-century kabbalist Rabbi Abraham Abulafia.
“I grew up hearing both Iraqi-Persian and Egyptian liturgy,” she said, “and it influenced my art in the sense that I am completely intrigued by the scales and accents.”
The way in which Hanna presents the melodies and the rhythms of the texts gives listeners a sense of meaning even if they don’t understand the words.
“When I sing in ancient Hebrew for audiences who do not speak Hebrew,” she explained, it provides “a better understanding that language is sound, and music crosses boundaries.”
She also crosses boundaries between the seen and the unseen, making tangible the intangible. She uses letters, nekudot (or vowels), syllables and her whole body to create choreography in the space sound inhabits. She refers to it as “voicing space.”
“The concept,” she said, “means ‘to fill the space with voice,’ giving the voice action. Voice in action has to react to space. When you intend to put the voice into space, then it is called ‘voicing space.’”
Her art includes song and spoken word.
“Singing has to do with the purity of voice and speaking has the intention to deliver information,” she explained. “These two levels are mentioned in the kabbalistic scripts as two different dimensions.”
Her performances also include theatre, music, of course, and video or some form of visual. In a 2015 lecture-performance at Tel Aviv University (TAU), which she has posted on her website, she uses a dry-erase board to illustrate various concepts.
A graduate of Nissan Nativ Acting Studio, Hanna has performed around the world – in Mumbai, Berlin, Sao Paolo and Boston, to name only a handful of the diverse places she has been. Her Chutzpah! show in Vancouver marks her first visit to Canada.
Hanna recently released her second single, “22 Letters,” a “kabbalistic rap from Sefer Yetzirah.” In the TAU lecture, she explains that there are 22 letters (in Hebrew). These foundation letters are engraved by the voice, carved with breath set in the mouth in five places: in the throat, in the palate, in the tongue, in the teeth, in the lips. With these 22 letters, God depicted what would be formed and all that would be formed; He made nonexistence into existence. She connects the creation of letters, writing, to human conception, birth. Therefore, our souls are full of letters, from head to foot, and the letters combine with the nekudot, alternating sounds, back and forth, in many melodies.
Her work is thought-provoking as well as entertaining, but is there some specific understanding that she is seeking, or that listeners are supposed to glean? “The exploration is the purpose,” she said, examining the “meeting point between voiced language and space.”
And it’s a journey that many are now following her on. As to what about her personal search speaks to so many people, she said, “I think that voice is a universal code, the basis of everything. The word was created by sound.”
For more on Hanna, visit victoriahanna.net. Her Feb. 23 performance at Rothstein Theatre starts at 8 p.m. For tickets ($29/$25/$21), call 604-257-5145 or visit chutzpahfestival.com, where the entire festival schedule can be found.