As part of the opening events for the third edition of the annual Unsound Music Festival, Norwegian musician Jenny Hval put on her first performance ever at Issue Project Room, in Downtown Brooklyn.
Issue Project Room is a unique art and performance center that has been in existence since 2003. Its setting is the run-down lobby of an old bank. This gives an air of cool formality and some degree of museum moodiness, both of which calm and silence.
The location really suited all the delicate but strong performances that evening. Surely, all attendees were on their best behavior, which helped every note effectively carry itself around the room before fading away to perfect silence… and then applause.
Initially, many may have been surprised that Jenny’s delicate frame could make vocals that ricocheted off the walls in the way that they did. Indeed, she further surprised new listeners with the song “Engines in the City,” with its sexually-explicit opening lyrics “I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris.” Indeed, I noticed several attendees sit up a bit after hearing that line.
Most songs Jenny played that night were off her album Viscera, released last year. As there is a performative and almost spontaneous element to her style, Jenny changed some things slightly and trailed off in different directions. Listening to this artist live is somewhat like peering into a diary or peeking through a hole in the wall at a private performance. She is at once engaged with the audience and her own thoughts. Songs seemingly come to life in the way that they did when she first created them.
Indeed, Jenny’s vocal strength, which contains a country twang, reverberated excellently off the walls of that room of silently-engaged people. It was a perfect space for a performer like her, whose effectiveness comes from how deeply she is in touch with herself.