If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing local artist Viviane Houle perform then you know what an expressive—and impressive—talent she is. Houle’s vocal improvisations push the limits of the human voice and her range and versatility are extraordinary. She did her classical voice training at both Vancouver Community College and the Banff Centre for the Arts, and spent five years as a member of the Vancouver Opera chorus. At the same time she was studying classical voice, she heard Kate Hammet-Vaughan perform her brand of vocal improv. “I’d never heard anything like it and wasn’t sure I liked it,” says Houle. Always open to new possibilities, Houle gave improvisation a try and she is now an established member of Canada’s vocal and creative music scene.
Houle performs with musicians of all styles to create one-of-a-kind compositions, music that is made in the moment. “I’m using my voice as an instrument to have a conversation with other musicians on stage,” explains Houle. “You have no idea what you’re going to do when you step on stage together.” For some, the idea of taking to the stage without a song list would induce panic. “For me, improvisation is almost a form of meditation,” says Houle. “You can’t be anywhere else but right there listening to what’s coming next. It’s less stress inducing than if you have to sing a song in a very specific way, like an aria in opera that has to be precise and repeatable.” Houle and her collaborators don’t rehearse before taking to the stage. After all, it’s improv. “There is a deep trust in each other’s skill level and ability to listen and communicate,” she says. “You can get on stage with musicians from anywhere in the world, that you’ve never met, and create instant compositions together because you have the same language.”
Houle has an upcoming performance June 29 at the Gumboot Cafe with another vocal improviser, Sissel Vera Petersen of Norway. Having met Petersen at the PuSh Festival in 2015, and with Petersen returning to Vancouver with her trio, Equilibrium, the opportunity presented itself to bring Equilibrium to the Coast. “She has one of the most angelic, gorgeous voices I’ve ever heard,” Houle says of Petersen. “These musicians are top of their profession. The chance to see them here on the Coast is a gift,” says Houle. “Our two voices together is going to be really fun.”
June 29 at 8pm at the Gumboot Cafe, Equilibrium plays the first set and will be joined for the second set by Viviane Houle and local drummer Barry Taylor. Tickets at the door. Suggested $10 donation.