Haley Fohr’s voice is the first, clearest, most obvious reference point for Circuit des Yeux. Fohr’s delivery is deep, measured, powerful, and fierce. Her potential is fully experimental: my first live experience with Fohr placed her alongside fellow Chicago vocalist Panoptic Prism (Carol Genetti) at Elastic. Here, Fohr and Genetti used multiple approaches, including primal hollers into a wide open piano, which provided the ultimate acoustic amplification and reverberation for their abstract cries.
I provide this example because it serves as a perfect counterpoint for Fohr’s work under her Circuit des Yeux moniker. On Wednesday, July 15, Fohr led a quartet of supporting musicians at Schuba’s, and atop their polished, powerful playing, Fohr exemplified commanding presence with her powerful voice. Her hollers were unrestrained and sustained, presenting a droning quality that matched the strings, woodwinds, and reeds that stood stage left. While singing, Fohr’s deep, bellowing timbre is singular beyond description, stopping her listener with a wide range and stunning emotional clarity. Fohr effectively uses experimental and traditional deliveries to color her live performance and match the power of her live band.
The quartet of players paired a range of acoustic instruments stage left, with electric bass and synth duties working stage right. By pairing viola (violin?), bass clarinet, and flute with Fohr’s acoustic 12-string guitar, this live version of Circuit des Yeux performed a hybrid sound that matched the abstract intensity of the latest LP (In Plain Speech) without as much of an “electronic” feel. By manipulating acoustic instrumentation, the band’s drones bled through borders of rock, folk, and experimental tropes, which resulted in a blissful range of reference points. It is as easy to describe Circuit des Yeux as building on the tradition of Mayor Daley or Spires That In The Sunset Rise, or harnessing the classic ideals of what something like Led Zeppelin should have been (during the most progressive, extended midset instrumental performance, the powerful electronic low-end and ornate acoustic flourishes suddenly gave me the feeling that this is the “ideal” that a song like “Kashmir” pushed for: progressive (in the best sense) rock that melded diverse instrumentation into a perfect whole).
Some of the best surprises of the sets featured an extended introduction that paired reed and strings, and I also found myself marveling at the energy created by Fohr’s guitar work and the electric bass: whether Fohr was processing her 12-string, or was simply locked in with the bass, both players produced a sound that was heavy and intense. Ultimately, the band effectively built on themes established on In Plain Speech, but used their performance to spin that album’s synthetic and folk passages into a well-rounded interpretation. Circuit des Yeux played on the audience’s sense of familiarity with the power of classic or progressive rock, and built their extended, droning, experimental deliveries on that friendly, welcoming feeling.
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