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Pushing the boundaries of song

Photo by Lokemele Davis

Conductor Phil Minton, with his arms raised and face scrunched in concentration, twitched with trancelike intensity as he led the Feral Choir in a 90 minute performance last Saturday night composed of hisses, pops, growls, barks and nearly every sound humanly possible.

The performance, which was held in the Mills Concert Hall, followed a series of workshops led by Minton in which participants were encouraged to free their voices and experiment with making sounds. Minton, who conceived the idea for a Feral Choir in 1980 while working with inexperienced singers, said that he finds inspiration everywhere for the improvised sounds he uses while conducting. "I use everything that I hear. Everything, everywhere." he said.

The choir started with an eerie growl or hum that wavered between the sound of buzzing bees and wind rustling through the trees. The looks on audience members' faces ranged from indecision to genuine fascination. Minton used gestures as crazed as the sounds the choir produced. His motions appeared to embody every sound made by each performer allowing all to resonate through him.

At one point, Minton whirled around to face the audience and sang – the sole set of noises that yielded coherent phrases.

Annie Hall, a performer whose mother graduated from Mills in 1939, compared Minton's conducting to a musician playing an instrument.

"Phil is our ears; the piccolo doesn't decide how loud it is," she said. "We're trusting him and he's trusting us."

She said that the purpose was "not performing or achieving something, [but] about accessing this inner longing where feelings live."

"I was impressed with how many different effects he got and how he seemed to have control," said Beth Glick-Rieman, mother of performer Eric Glick-Rieman. "[Minton is] funny to watch, even from the back."