This is what happens when you take grief’s smothering and render it in space: It expands. It becomes something you can traverse. That quiet, impossible feeling of loss can suddenly be crossed. The body moves through it. What once seemed to be an impenetrable collapse turns into a site of possibility. From the wreckage, something grows, and the ruin is no longer a ruin. In all its smoldering and all its weight, it is simply a place to begin.
Working at home on her computer, Fohr wrote, arranged, and produced each note of –io . She wrote for a 23-piece orchestra, gathering strings, horns, and drums around her daring vocal melodies. She staged -io on a scale vaster than anything she’d recorded before, a scale that matched the enormity she’d weathered, big enough to hold the world in its tumult.
Under COVID restrictions, Fohr could only record with six other players in the studio at a time. She and her collaborators — 13 renowned musicians from Chicago’s jazz, classical, and experimental scenes — built -io layer by layer, entwining its pain with the clear yearning that sparks at its dark heart. Horns cry out like terrified and distant voices from the dizzying waltz of “Neutron Star.” A spaghetti-western guitar reverberates as if in a cavern amid the percussive pummel of “Dogma.” Strings thrash against each other like sheets of rain amid “Vanishing’s” apocalyptic thrum. Amid them, Fohr’s voice rears in space, overdubbed to the point where it becomes an architecture of its own, at once the subject in the narrative and the surrounding environment. The effect is at once capacious and crushing, like being drawn into a gas giant.
Under lockdown, her typically collaborative songwriting practice became solitary. She wrote on piano and organ, instruments on a larger scale than her usual guitar that felt more “like a solid foundation you can stand on.” Her lyrics kept returning to images of black holes and gravity,
all-consuming phenomena that rend our common experience of physical reality. “I became obsessed with black holes, which is the ultimate gravitational pull,” Fohr says. “It also makes such a synonymous metaphor to death. Things go in, they can only go one way. They go in and they never come out.”
“I went to the Robert Rauschenberg residency with this idea of trying to explore the hard work of joy. At that point, I had just been wallowing in this grief for so long. I thought, I want to write about joy. I know it’s going to be hard work,” Fohr says. “But when I was on this beach and in this really privileged, gorgeous place, I felt even more despondent. I thought it would be this balm, but instead it was just the saddest beach in my life.”
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