Unless you're an aficionado of edgy electronic music, the chances are you've never heard of Amy X Neuburg. But that's about to change. The avant-garde cabaret artist has been toiling in the Bay Area music scene since the late 1980s, when she and a group of fellow grad students from Mills College Center for Contemporary Music formed the experimental musical theater ensemble MAP. She spent much of the '90s performing with her avant-cabaret band Amy X Neuburg & Men -- she conferred her middle initial on herself as a child, a result of a crush on the mysterious Racer X from the Saturday morning cartoon series Speed Racer -- while also pursuing an independent career as a composer. She has written scores for film, video, installations, theater, the AXIS Dance Company, and Mondomedia's animated Web series, Piki & Poko in StarLand.
In the past few years, Neuburg has concentrated on developing solo performances featuring her wildly tuneful compositions. Skillfully wielding a set of electronic drum sticks to loop and process her voice in real time, she accompanies herself with multilayered rhythm and vocal tracks. Neuburg celebrates the release of her first solo album, Residue, on Saturday at the Jack London Square performance space, the Metro, as part of a double bill with fellow electronic music provocateur Herb Heinz.
Neuburg's CD is being released on Other Minds, the label run by the acclaimed new music festival of the same name, where she created quite a stir last year with a mesmerizing performance. "Amy is going to take the music world by storm, a superhuman combination of Björk, Laurie Anderson, and Kate Bush, and maybe even Maria Callas, all rolled into one," says composer and OM artistic director Charles Amirkhanian, who also produced the first commercial album featuring work by Anderson. "Amy has a genuinely riveting stage presence and spectacular talent not only singing, but also composing. Her structures are very exciting and complicated."
Neuburg has already broken out of the Bay Area new music scene and now splits her time between Oakland and Brooklyn, where she shares an apartment with her sister electronic music mavens Miya Masaoka and Pamela Z. Over the past year she has performed at the Bang on a Can festival and the Warmer by the Stove series at Lotus, and last week she debuted Residue at Joe's Pub. Like Anderson and Z, Neuburg is fascinated by language. Before she moved to the Bay Area in 1986 to study at Mills, she trained as a classical vocalist at Oberlin, where she also received a BA in linguistics. Latin and Finnish, languages she doesn't happen to speak, have found their way into her pieces, though her inventive wordplay more often involves English.
"Certain words sound good on a high note, certain words sound good on a low note, and certain words sound good when they're choppy and short and have a lot of consonants," she says, clipping her syllables for emphasis. "Other words sound good when you're dooooing sooomethinnnng luguuuubrious and drawn out. I love the puzzle of finding just the right word that has the right meaning and the right sound. Language is music." Amy X Neuburg performs Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Metro, 201 Broadway, Oakland. Info: OaklandMetro.org
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