Vocalist Pamela Z knows more about the complex music of language than a lecture hall full of Shakespearean scholars. She's a singer with a poet's ear, a composer with a director's eye, and a performer with a master thespian's grasp of dramatic tension. By using a high-tech arsenal of digital processing gear (computers, delays, samplers, and the curious BodySynth, which lets the artist trigger sound effects with the wiggle of a finger or the roll of a shoulder), she mines the multifarious levels of words and their meanings by looping, fracturing, or manipulating spoken or sung phrases until the original message -- turned inside out, upside down, and backward -- is heard in a new light. Clearly on the creative fringe but far from esoteric, songs like "Metrodaemonium," "Questions (Trip)," and "Parts of Speech" explore verbal interactions any listener can relate to. Pamela Z's themes draw from familiar source material, including idle chitchat, news headlines, street sounds, and media catch-phrases. She arranges these textual snapshots with a structural integrity that makes even the strangest of them easy to follow, not unlike a pop song by, say, Laurie Anderson. And like Anderson, Pamela Z is also a multimedia maven, logging years of collaboration in dance, film, and video. With an ear acutely tuned to the melody, rhythm, timbre, and symbolic imagery of the spoken word, she's found striking aural-lingual connections. For Pamela Z, language is music.
-- Sam Prestianni
Pamela Z performs Parts of Speech Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 3-5, at 8 p.m. at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida (at 17th Street), S.F. Tickets are $12.50-16.50; call 621-7797.