A cappella singing means singing without accompaniment. But how do you define accompaniment? Doesn’t amplification accompany? What about extended vocal techniques like Korean p’ansori singing or Tuvan throat singing? If you’re a soprano and you’re yodeling into a mike while three other women are spreading a pad of mellifluous vocal sound underneath your hard-edged tones, aren’t you being accompanied?
It probably doesn’t matter. The salient point is that it’s unusual (which is a given) and worth hearing (which is not). The yodeling piece is called “Cesca’s View,” by the composer Rinde Eckert, and you can hear it on the self-titled debut album of the vocal octet Roomful of Teeth — that is, if you missed the group’s concert at the Atlas on Monday night.
Between its own new-music series and Library of Congress presentations, the Atlas has become Washington’s go-to venue for those interested in the burgeoning “alt-classical” scene.
Like a number of other groups on the series, Roomful of Teeth records with New Amsterdam Records, and all three of that label’s composer-founders were represented on the program — including Judd Greenstein, whose “AEIOU” offered the vowels in question, produced with a raucous edge that carried them away from the traditional sound world of beautiful vocal production, until the singers finally arrived at a round “U” sound, suspended on notes that formed an intriguing, sculptural chord, twisting gently in midair.