It'll be hard to put into words the experience of seeing Lisa Gerrard live, last night at the Rotterdamse Schouwburg (not your ideal concert venue, but with Nighttown closed that's where you end up - especially when it's her only concert in Holland).
For almost two decades Gerrard, along with Brendan Perry, made up Dead Can Dance, the unclassifiable 'darkwave' band whose influences stretched from medieval church compositions, Iranian chants and Irish folk songs to Baudelaire and De Quincey. (In terms of influences, Dead Can Dance were like the Borges of pop music.) After Dead Can Dance split up Gerrard went on to produce a number of solo / collaboration albums, and became a much sought-after soundtrack composer, scoring films like 'The Gladiator', 'The Insider' and many more.
All of which doesn't begin to describe her otherworldly beautiful voice, operatic in its range and power, evoking mythical landscapes, at turns haunting and yearning, wailing and soothing. There is a primeval quality to her voice, as though it comes straight from the source of all singing.
If that sounds vague, let me try and put it differently: Many of her songs don't have actual lyrics, she just sings sounds, using her voice purely as an instrument. This style of singing is sometimes described as glossolalia, meaning 'speaking in tongues', which originally refers to a trance-like state of religious ecstacy causing people to speak or chant in unknown languages. In the Bible this is associated with receiving the Holy Spirit, though the phenomenon is known in other religions as well, and is in fact much older than Christianity. It was practiced, for example, by the Greek Oracle of Delphi.
So perhaps the best way to describe Gerrard's voice is as 'singing in tongues', like an oracle priestess revealing universal truth in a non-verbal language.
If that still sounds vague, see these awesome live recordings of 'Sacrifice' (which featured in 'The Insider') and 'Sanvean'. Both were highlights at yesterday's concert, along with 'Space Weaver' (from her latest album, 'The Silver Tree').
See also: the recent documentary about Gerrard called 'Sanctuary'.