Christa Ebert, aka Uno Lady, aka the “one woman choir,” is always surprising us, not that that should surprise us.
When she first came on the music scene a decade ago, she was doing something no one else was — and she still is. She made her music with only her own voice, using a microphone, mixer and loop pedal, processing, distorting and layering her own voice to create exquisite melodies and clouds of sound that envelope her sly, offbeat, often surreal lyrics. She’s released several albums of these tunes, mostly recently 2019’s Osmosis.
Early this year she surprised us with her “pandemic” film, Grounded, a series of short meditative, ambient pieces, again using her voice as the primary instrument, enhanced by synths, bells and sounds from nature, accompanying animated stop-motion images of nature shots taken in her backyard.
Her new digital album, Illicit Hymns, is yet another new thing. While in Europe on an artist residency, Ebert visited several cathedrals in France and Switzerland, where she recorded spontaneous vocal performances, done without clearance or permission, hence the album’s title. The four cathedrals yielded the album’s seven tracks, connected to her earlier work by their improvisational quality, although the thing “processing” her voice this time is the stellar acoustics of the cathedrals.
“This trip was about following my intuition,” she says. “The recordings were unplanned and unrehearsed. The locations were not scouted nor researched, rather stumbled upon. The spaces shaped the sound. The specific echo and excitement of each experience made the melody. I had never heard or sang these songs before. If I had scheduled a show, or gotten permission this would have been a completely different performance. These pieces would have never existed.”
Connections to her earlier sound appear in these recordings, as her voice soars and drifts and even sounds as if it’s been processed, with the church spaces doing the work of electronics. The meandering, open-ended melodies occasionally evoke Gregorian plainchant or a soprano rehearsing her solo for a church service. Like the pieces in Grounded, they have a meditative feel, but one that’s more invigorating and exploratory than dreamy.