Great atmospheric music comes in all varieties, and one of the most fascinating emanates from the human voice. While so much modern music attempts to imitate real people through synthesized replications, there is nothing like the sound of live singing, especially when it’s employed in exotic ways.
The following five compositions feature a capella or choral singing unlike anything you’ve ever heard, many without discernible words. So sit back, press play, close your eyes and let these dark and dreamy songs transport you to enticing new worlds.
DAVID HYKES & THE HARMONIC CHOIR “Arc Descents” — I had heard of Hykes and his choir in the past and was recently turned on to this otherworldly vocal composition. Their voices blend together so naturally and beautifully that at times it is hard to tell that it is a group of human singers. The mesmerizing, slow motion cascade of this piece invokes the feeling of what it must be like to experience free fall in outer space. As a sidenote, the Hykes track “Rainbow Voice” was used in two of the Blade movies and in Dead Poets Society, so you may have heard his work before.
DEAD CAN DANCE “The Host Of Seraphim” — This beguiling vocal, percussion and keyboard composition was used in the documentary Baraka a decade ago. Lisa Gerrard’s spellbinding vocals soar powerfully over this mournful song, which is one of the most transfixing in the Dead Can Dance catalog nearly twenty-five years after it was recorded. Gerrard is a living, singing treasure. See her live if you can.
FAITH AND THE MUSE “Iago’s Demise” — One of my favorite songs from the Faith And The Muse catalog spotlights Monica Richard’s ethereal singing in a haunting a capella piece. Her multi-tracked vocals augmented by subtle studio effects swirl into a ghostly cloud of sound, and the rhythmic interplay within propels it to exciting new places. This song is one of the reasons why I think the dynamic duo of Richards and William Faith is the greatest Goth group ever.
GYORGY LIGETI “Requiem” — This excerpt from a larger work by Ligeti is best known to the masses as the eerie “voice” of the Monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Combining these sounds with the striking visual of the alien black slab that opens up into the Star Gate was pure genius. This chorus creeped me out as a kid and still does today. Play this with headphones on in a dark room — I’ll bet you’ll be scared stiff.
JORGE REYES “Invocacion” — Known for his prehispanic wind, percussion and vocal works — not to mention his collaborations with ethnoambient musician Steve Roach and experimental guitarist Suso Saiz — Reyes was an enigmatic and unique performer. (Sadly, he passed away last year after a heart attack at the young age of 57.) This live Day of the Dead performance of a hypnotic, trippy track from 1991’s surreal and dreamy Bajo el Sol Jaguar album combines vocals and body percussion. This Mexican musician bequeathed us with a beguiling catalog worth diving deep into.