Ánde Somby is a traditional Sami yoiker from Sirbma, a town in the Samiland territories of Northern Norway. At its core, yoiking is a deeply spiritual performance of the individual in concert with their natural environment. The dynamic, semi-improvised vocal tradition practiced by the indigenous Sami people of Northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland has been recognized as the oldest surviving in Europe. Often it is an attempt to replicate or represent the sounds of animals, with the yoik of the wolf, yoik of the salmon, the mosquito yoik, etc. But just as often it is a means of storytelling. Some yoiks tell stories of fairies and mountain spirits, some protest the disenfranchisement of the Sami people by the Norwegian state; with Norway long-insistent on subsuming Sami culture, the political and mythological can often be intertwined. Somby has been performing traditional and original yoiks since 1974, a rarity among his contemporaries in that he writes his own. He is also an associate professor of law specializing in indigenous rights at the University of Tromsø and a longtime activist for Sami rights and cultural retention in Norway.
As an artist within the yoiking tradition, Somby’s signature is the use of his voice at the very edge of its capabilities, cracking and growling, expressing and embodying the spirit of the animals of which he yoiks. In 2016 Somby recorded Yoiking with the Winged Ones, an LP produced by Chris Watson that integrates the sounds of Samiland itself—birds chirping, echoes, and wind—in dialogue with the songs. The recording is ultimately less about Somby himself than the way his voice expands out and harmonizes with the environment, a sonic conversation that is sure to find new dimensions in Madison Square Park.
Prismatic Park features three large sculptures of painted wood and prismatic glass by Josiah McElheny on view from June 13th through October 8th at Madison Square Park. These minimal, almost architectural forms are intended to create new performance spaces within the park, each functioning as an open stage-like platform for a different medium curated by each of three nonprofit organizations. Along with Danspace Project and Poets House, Blank Forms has been invited to commission ambitious new work that summons the potential for imagination, creativity, and performance inspired by the spontaneous audiences and chance encounters that only a public place can offer. Inhabiting a curvilinear, translucent blue sound wall for six weeklong residencies that may include rehearsals and workshops in addition to performances will be Lea Bertucci, Ánde Somby, Joe McPhee & Graham Lambkin, Shelley Hirsch, Matana Roberts, and Limpe Fuchs.