The acclaimed indie sextet Victoire, headed by composer Missy Mazzoli, makes its Cincinnati debut at the Contemporary Arts Center this week. Victoire — and its dynamic mix of acoustic and electronic tone poems — teams up with composer and electric guitarist Noveller and Synthpop singer Glasser for what the CAC bills as “the sonic intersections of woman and machine, manipulation and composition.”
Mazzoli agrees with that description.
“We’re all women and we have an interesting relationship with machines and technology,” she says, speaking by phone from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Already a sought-after composer when she founded Victoire in 2008, Mazzoli was anxious to get back to the immediacy of performing for a live audience.
“It was something I really missed,” she says. “The push was to take the best of the Pop and Classical music, and combine them into one ensemble. And Victoire functions very much as a band.
“We tour, we play in venues with other bands, we put out records. We also have the precision, instrumentation and color palette of a Classical ensemble, so that allows me to try a lot of new things that just weren’t possible logistically with that kind of group.”
Victoire will perform selections from the recently released Vespers for a New Dark Age on New Amsterdam Records. A work commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Mazzoli has called it “an exploded, blasphemous, blown-apart church service.” NPR’s “First Listen” praised its “cinematic and intimate” passages and there were raves from The New York Times, Pitchfork and Textura.
While Vespers has moments of shattering intensity, it is neither crazed nor blasphemous. Matthew Zapruder’s poetry replaces the traditional vesper texts, confronting those often-unsettling convergences of humanity and technology. Victoire renders Mazzoli’s settings into ethereal, haunting soundscapes, with percussion by Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and additional vocals from Martha Cluver and Virginia Warnken.
Mazzoli didn’t grow up in a religious home, but she begged her mother to take her to their Swedenborgian church in rural Pennsylvania.
“I was in love with the ritual of church,” she says. “It was as close to theater as I could get.”
The impact of social change on established ritual was a force behind Vespers as well as Victoire’s earlier recording, Cathedral City.
“When live music and ritual and spirituality meet technology, what happens?” Mazzoli says. “The result is this album.”
Since Kotche is not on the tour, Mazzoli created special arrangements for Victoire. “That changes a lot of [Vespers],” she says. “But this tour is the only time we’ll be performing it live.”
Victoire’s members are keyboard artist and synth producer Lorna Krier (known professionally as Lorna Dune), violinist Olivia De Prato, vocalist Mellissa Hughes, clarinetist Eileen Mack and Eleonore Oppenheim on double bass. Mazzoli plays keyboards and is the group’s composer and arranger “90 percent of the time,” as she puts it. They all maintain busy careers as soloists and members of other ensembles.
“We didn’t just meet on the street; we’d all been playing in other bands,” says Oppenheim, who met Mazzoli when they were graduate students at Yale. “It’s more of an organic thing that happened over time.”
Mazzoli insists that she wanted the best musicians available who were willing to perform her compositions. They all happened to be women.
“I picked them because they’re great musicians,” she says. “The music is so incredibly demanding and what I’m asking of them is incredibly hard, so that has to be the first thing, that they play their instruments better than anyone else.”
Victoire’s members are as committed to each other as they are to their music. “We call it a nurturing scenario,” Mazzoli says. “We have so little time to rehearse and because we have this relationship, we can make it work in the time we have.”
Mazzoli appeared in Cincinnati as composer-in-residence for the second Constella Festival in 2013 and she turned up at Northside Tavern for a brief set not long afterward. Victoire has performed throughout Ohio, and they’re finally making it here Sunday.
And don’t ask Victoire to define their music. “I don’t think our generation has ever thought in terms of boundaries or labels,” Mazzoli says. “Those are categories applied by critics.”
VICTOIRE/GLASSER/NOVELLER takes place Sunday at the Contemporary Arts Center. More info and tickets: contemporaryartscenter.org.