Futile Spells

for choir__12'__2016

1st Prize at Prix Collégien de musique contemporaine 2017
Offical selection for ISCM World Music Days 2019 (Estonia)


In recent works, I imagine strange millennium-old vocal styles/techniques from fictional cultures. This piece focuses on magical, supernatural or ritualistic spells that might have belonged to ancient populations. But if these civilizations could not save themselves from extinction, can one place trust in their belief systems? Should one dismiss these spells as merely futile, or does cynicism prevent one from recognizing the magical?


May 4, 2019 TALLINN (Estonia) Collegium Musicale - ISCM World New Music Days 2019

November 17, 2018 TORONTO (Canada) The Latvian Radio Choir - Soundstreams

November 23, 2016 TORONTO (Canada) Music of the Rainbow Nation - Soundstreams WORLD PREMIERE
Nathaniel Dett Chorale, conducted by David Fallis


While not showcased in terms of quantity, women and people of color put out some of the highest quality work at World Music Days 2019 Tallinn. Mirjam Tally, Gabriel Dharmoo, Lotta Wennäkoski, and Violeta Dinescu made expert use of captivating timbres and experimental textures. [...] Collegium Musicale wove a tapestry of whistling oscillations, airy flutter tonguing, guttural outbursts, palatal clicks, hard consonants, and crackling low vocal fry in Dharmoo's Futile Spells. As conductor Endrik Üksvärav explained to the audience mid-piece, these strange incantations were “futile attempts to connect with the invisible.".
Amanda Cook – World Music Days 2019 and Estonian Music Days Converge in Tallinn, I care if you listen – May 22, 2019

Estonian chamber choir Collegium Musicale gave a superbly engaging performance of Futile Spells by Canadian Gabriel Dharmoo. The title says it all: Dharmoo's material appeared to be doing two things at once: trying to bring into existence a notional, imaginary form of ancient, ritualised spell-casting music, while at the same time questioning not just the possibility of this but the human impulse to 'need' such devices in the first place. The music directly acknowledged its own what we might call 'anthropologising effect', actively vocalising the “desperate, vain and futile attempts to connect with the invisible". Unconventional vocal techniques melded with body percussion to construct a mesmerising, bewildering spectacle that disarmingly embodied confidence and uncertainty, not unlike reading the words of a supposedly powerful spell in a language no-one understands. The piece found meaning in its very questioning of how and where we seek for meaning in our lives and actions, and whether or not we can recognise something 'magical' (however that word is defined) when it occurs, and indeed whether or not we were the cause. It was all deeply thought-provoking.
Simon Cummings – World Music Days 2019, Estonia (Part 4), 5:4 5against4 – May 20, 2019


Centre de musique canadienne - Interview about à propos de Futile Spells, finalist for the Prix Collégien de musique contemporaine 2017


Commissioned by Soundstreams, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts