new music-theatre for 8 performers & tape

[1] FILM from the original performance

[1] FILM from the original performance

This film is the first of three taken from the original performance of Songs of Incantation in 1992.



From silence, the lighting gradually rises from darkness.  Distinct indefinable shapes can be made out on stage, the diffused lighting effects adding to the ambiguity of the objects.  Eight people dressed in black walk slowly onto the stage area in a procession, each holding a lighted candle and wearing a mask.  The group proceeds to circle the stage and one by one the performers take a position in a semi-circle. When the performers reach their assigned positions, the candles are positioned on pedestals and the lighting increases so that the performance space is clearly visible. 

The leader of the group ends positioned centre stage nearest to the audience and  begins to make a series of ritual gestures which act as cues to the other performers.  The first cue is a handful of rice scattered into the centre of the performance area, and the group begins a ritual chant which gradually increases in volume.  The text then begins to fragment:  Forced syllabic sounds begin to emerge, and the ritual chant transforms into an array of vocal sound.  Instruments are revealed from beneath black sheets forming the shapes on stage, which the performers incorporate into the performance.  One by one, the performers remove their masks.

 Percussive instruments such as gongs and chimes are revealed first, and then the flutes. This is followed by the 'cello and the bassoon.  At first, the flautists make sounds from their instruments which are unrecognizable as traditional flute sounds,  bridging the barrier between the theatrical and musical performance.  The alto flute is blown without its headjoint like a brass instrument, producing a deep and resonant sound, and the other two flautists play their flutes by blowing through the head joints, producing sudden wind sounds. 

 The flutes start playing an ancient sounding melody, using special "hollow-tone" fingerings, accompanied by 'cello and bassoon who are playing drones.  The ritual gestures used by the head cultist have transformed into traditional conducting gestures.   Other instrumental sounds begin to impose, using long notes contrasted with short bursts of sudden instrumental sound, and percussive sounds (bass drums, suspended chimes and woodblocks). 

As the lighting begins to diminish, the tape part gradually emerges.  The sound of wind (recorded and adjusted vocal sibilance) fills the performance space, and one by one the candles are extinguished. This vocal sibilance is taken by six of the nine recorded voices, and gradually develops from the natural sound of wind into the sound of breathing and then whispered words. 

A spotlight highlights the presence of performers that have moved centre stage.  These instrumentalists are one of the flute players, the gems horn player, the alto flute player and the 'cellist.  They  begin to play a haunting chant-like melody (beginning with a gems horn solo, and then moving to flute), which is gradually picked up by the rest of the ensemble hidden in darkness.  As this development occurs, voices on tape start uttering syllables of sound in a highly detached style.  They gradually form  into groups of syllables , and then Ancient Greek words.  The dramatic intensity increases, until one of the voices begins to sing the melody that has been introduced by the live instrumental ensemble and the other voices begin to read fragments of Ancient Greek text.  When all the solo voices are singing the melody, the lighting fades on the live instrumental ensemble, leaving the performance space in total darkness.

The six sibilant voice parts continue to develop  becoming more extroverted and angry.  The solo voices begin to fade and become gradually distant, while the other voices start chanting the Ancient Greek text that begun the work.  As this gains force and violence, it is picked up by the live instrumentalists, both vocalizing the text and enunciating it with live instrumental sound (the regular beating of a bass drum). 

The work is now reaching its climax, and two of the recorded voices cry important Ancient Greek fragments taken from the original Agamemnon text.  The voices then gradually dissolve back into the natural sound of breathing (heard through the sound of performers blowing over bottles), and fade into silence.  Lighting gradually returns to how it was when the work began, and the sound of the Tibetan singing bowls played by live performers is heard ringing on after the tape part is completed.  The performers are revealed to be the same as when the performance began: positioned in a semi-circle, wearing masks.



Although the performance of this work is highly theatrical in nature, the musical structures are very important to the development of the composition.  The musical nature of the vocal parts has already been discussed, especially in relation to the use of Ancient Greek text. However, almost all parameters in the work are expressed in musical terms.  The entire structure of the introductory vocal/instrumental section is based on the following series of time signatures:  4/4, 5/8, 9/16, 4/8, 3/4, 7/8.  The work begins with each of the metres doubled: 8/4, 5/4, [9/8], 4/4, 6/4, 7/4.  The crotchet lasts one second, so as long as the metre in brackets is deleted, cues for the beginning and end of bars can be controlled by the conductor using a stopwatch (allowing the possibility of ritualistic gestures). Once the instruments have been revealed, the composition changes to the initial metric series requiring formal conducting gestures.  When the tape part starts and the lighting has almost completely diminished, the instrumental ensemble moves to improvisation based on notated patterns, creating  busy cacophony.

All of the theatrical elements, like the removing of masks, the unveiling of instruments, the extinguishing of the candles and the ritual gestures (beginning with the scattering of rice), form an important part of the musical development, and add a level of ambiguity to the performance.  Although these actions are essentially theatrical in nature, they have been included within the musical structures of the work.

The ancient sounding music played by the ensemble who move into the centre of the performance space, is important in relation to the structure of the piece.  It was composed after some research into Ancient Greek musical theory, particularly in relation to their use of tetrachords and heterophony.   As the central ensemble develops, instruments hidden in the darkness begin to echo the melody in  different transpositions, producing a highly dense texture.  Most importantly,  the solo voices on the tape part start singing the same melody with the Ancient Greek text.  In a sense the music moves from a heterophonic adaption of the melody performed live on an ancient instrument, to a highly contrasting recorded vocalization.  This is designed to present ambiguity about what is in the past (the recorded music) and what is in the present (the live performers), and to represent through musical form the passing of a great passage of time by using different ways of interpreting ancient music.


The texts used in this composition are very important to the structure of the work, relating both to the sounds of the words and their thematic importance.  All the texts used are in Ancient Greek  (apart from a short phrase which is whispered in English) and are used in many different forms.  A system of text notation involving pronunciation symbols has been used in this composition.   Using this system, the text could be easily defined in terms of syllabic sounds, allowing fragmentation of the words and redefinition of the sounds produced in a musical context.  Each of the texts is dealt with in a different way, some of them in a number of different ways.  Included here is a lists of the texts and how they are dealt with in the composition, and also how they relate to the thematic content of the work.  The actual texts are first printed in Greek, then translated into a pronounceable form with syllable divisions and stresses.  A translation into English is also included, as well as details about the use of the texts.  Four important larger fragments are listed first because they are read in completion by the voice parts on tape, then some smaller fragments which are used in the live instrumental introduction and by the taped Furies.  The larger texts are referred to numerically in the full score, relating back to these translations.  Rhythms are printed above the syllabic groups to act as a guideline for pronunciation.  These are not strict rhythms and it is important that when the texts are read they have a feeling of free expressive rhythm.  However, the rhythmic flow of Ancient Greek is very important, explaining why it is necessary to be particularly aware of the stresses and the syllable divisions.  Also, some of the words are joined by a slur, denoting the fact that in speech, these are indistinguishable as separate words. Below is a key for pronunciation of the texts.  This key is very important because most vocal sounds in the composition use these symbols, even if they do not form words.

[sound made when blowing out a candle ]

ә [banana]

a [mat, cat]

[dipthong: day]

b [baby]

c [chin]

d [elder]

e [bet, bed]

ee [like German 'geht' or a Dutch long ee vowel]

э [hair]

f [fifty]

g [go]

h [hat]

h [guttural sound]

i [tip, flip]

[site, night]

k [kin, cake]

l [lily]

m [murmer]

n [no, own]

ŋ [strong]

o [follow]

[dipthong: bone, beau]

oi [dipthong: coin, destroy]

p [lip]

r [rarity]

rr [rolled 'r']

s [source]

sh [shy]

t [tie]

th [think]

u [rule, school]

[blue, also as in German]

x [fox]

v [vivid]

y [yard]

z [zone]

' [shows that stress is on the following syllable]

/ [divides words into syllables]


The holy lord of Heaven longs to fertilise the land, and longing for this marriage has seized the earth. Rain, tumbling from the passionate heaven, has kissed the earth, and she brings forth for mortals grass for their herds and grain for their bread, and trees, watered by this marriage,bearing fruit in season; and I attend upon this birth.

This text was chosen both because it is thought to be by Aeschylus, and the fact that it forms a typical pastoral text.  This is particularly interesting because the third fragment, which is taken from the Agamemnon text, is thought to parody pastoral poetry of this type.  This text is set to music and is introduced vocally by the recorded solo voices, and is also spoken as part of a recorded vocal collage with the other texts.  This melody is also the one introduced by the live instrumental ensemble in position 2.

e/'rrә men 'hәn/yos 'u/rrә/nos trr/'s kth/'o/nә, e/'rrs de 'g/әn 'lәm/bә/nee gә/'mu t/'keen, 'om/brros dәp 'yu/nә 'en/tos 'u/rrә/nu pez/'n e/'k/se 'g/әn, hэ de 'tik/te/t brro/'tois mэ/'ln tэ 'bos/kәs k be/'on de/'met/rre/on, den/'drron tis 'ho/rrә dek 'no/tid/zon/tos gә/'mu te/'l /os 'es/te, tn de/'g pә/'rr/te/os.


Ancient violence longs to breed new violence in the evil ways of men.  Sooner or later, when the day of birth arrives, there will be a creature impervious to battle or war, an unholy force of black ruin for the dynasty, a child that resembles its parent.

This text fragment is taken from the Agamemnon, and is used as part of the solo voice vocal collage.  The opening phrase from the English translation ("Ancient violence longs to breed") is also used in the composition.  It is whispered by the recorded sound of the Furies, who develop it from extended syllables into individual words and then a whispered reading, creating a violent pool of whispered sound .  This excerpt is used because it sums up the thematic content of the work:  Horrific events that have occured in the past, even in the ancient past, will always remain and affect us in some way in our lives.

fil/'ee de 'tik/teen 'h/brris men pә/'l/ә nee/әd/'zu/sәn en kәk/'ois brro/'tn 'h/brrin tot э toth , 'ho/te to 'k/rre/on 'mo/lee faus tә/'ku, 'd/mon/ә te tәәm/ә/'kon ә/'pol/e/mon, 'әn/ye/rron thrrә/'sos me/'l/nәs mel/ә/'thrroi/sin 'ә/tәs, 'ee/dom/in/әtok/'hyu/sin.


So it was that he gave up his life as he fell, and gasping out a harsh gout of blood he struck me with a black spray of gore, and I rejoiced in it no less than the bursting bud rejoices in the god-given rain.

This text fragment is important because of the onomatopoeic nature of the Ancient Greek words;  it contains explicitly violent language, and this is directly reflected in the sounds of the words used.  Harsh and guttural syllables combined with strong and violent rhythms creates a powerful passage, and it is interesting to speculate that these words were chosen for precisely that reason.  This particular text fragment was chosen also because it parodies the typical pastoral poetry of its day.  Clytaemnestra mockingly compares the feeling of Agamemnon's blood on her skin to the rain fertilizing the earth (see Text One).

'hu/t ton 'h/tu th/'mon 'hor/m/nee pez/'n, kәk/'fs/e/on 'ox/ee/әn 'h/mә/tos sfә/'gen bә/'lee me/'rrem/nee 'psә/kә/de 'foi/ne/әs drro/'su, k/'rru/sәn 'u/den 'hes/on э de/'os/dot/ 'gә/nee spo/'rre/tos 'kә/l/kos en lok/'yu/mә/sin.


(blood-curdling scream) The gods have been hated!  This place clutches its secrets:  wicked murder of kindred has spattered the ground with the blood of butchery!

This is a shorter fragment also chosen  because of the onomatopoeic nature of the words.  It is a gruesome piece of text that is screamed by Cassandra as she has prophetic visions of a horrific past and her own impending slaughter.  It is shouted with fear and hatred by one of the Fury voices at the climax of the recorded piece.

mis/'o/the/on men un, po/'lә s/'nist/orr/ә '/t/fon/ә kә/kә 'kәrr/tә/n әn/'drros/fәg/ee/on k pe/'don hrrәnt/'э/rre/on


 (i) 'ot/ot/ot/toi po/'poi da

(ii)  o/pol/on  o/pol/on

Both of the fragments above are used by the recorded Furies at the climax of the composition.  The first of the two fragments is particularly interesting because it is meant to represent a long, mournful cry.   It is vociferated by Cassandra as she has her horrific visions, and actually has no possible translation.  This is interesting because it highlights the importance of the nature of the sounds used rather than the meaning of the words.  In the composition this emerges as an incredibly loud and mournful cry, which is then echoed maniacally by some of the other Furies, who fragment it into smaller syllabic groups.  The second fragment is basically Cassandra's cry to the god Apollo who cursed her with the gift of prophecy, and these are shouted mournfully by the Furies as the recorded piece dissolves back into natural sounds.

 'î/li/non 'î/li/non 'ee/på, to/'dyu ni/'kә/

Cry, cry for death, but good win out in glory in the end.

This fragment is repeated a number of times by the chorus in the Agamemnon, and its rhythmic nature suited it for use as a ritual chant in the composition.  The chorus was commenting on the action of the performance, the inevitable nature of history and the place of the characters who they watch on a journey whose path can only lead to pain and death.   This repeated refrain is used a number of times, first by the live instrumental ensemble, and then later echoed by the Furies.  The live instrumental ensemble begins the performance with this chant, which then dissolves into syllabic sounds and musical long notes, resulting in the unveiling of instruments and the "musical" performance.  The vocal Furies develop this phrase in the opposite way - it emerges gradually from a pool of violent whispered sound and guttural moans, and then becomes a dominant repeated chant which is picked up by the live instrumental ensemble in darkness.

The live instrumental ensemble also uses some individual words that were used as the names for musical notes in Ancient Greek musical theory.  In the composition, they were used to highlight the fact that the instrumental work moves gradually from a theatrical to a musical space.

únee/tO,   p¶/r¶/úmee/zO,   úmee/zO,   h"/úp¶/tO


Movement and action play an important part in the development of this composition.  All gestures and actions should be considered from a visual and musical perspective.  For example, the unveiling of an instrument and the extinguishing of a candle should be considered as part of the musical development as well as an act of ritual significance, and should be treated as such.  Performer One has to learn a series of important gestures which are specified in detail overleaf.

As well as actions and gestures, performers are required to change performance positions at different times during the work. The composition begins with the performers walking on stage in a procession.  They enter from somewhere offstage, and exactly how they proceed is not specified as long as they end up in the position below:

The performers stay in these positions to play the live instrumental introduction.  After the tape part has started and dominated the sound of the performers, and the lighting has faded to darkness, the performers move to the next position.  Performers Two, Four, Five and Eight move into the centre of the performance space, taking their solo instruments with them (the gems horn and the Tibetan temple chimes can be waiting in position 2).  The other players move to a new position surrounding the central group.  The diagram below shows the new positions:


The performers move to position 3 after the lighting has faded on the central ensemble, and the external performers have finished playing.  Position 3 is basically the same as position 1, and the performers stay in this position until the end of the performance.  At this point, while the tape part is dominant and before the performers have to play again, all instruments apart from the bass drums should be re-covered with the black cloths. 

PERFORMER ONE: Ritual Gestures

Performer One plays a very important role in this composition, questioning the role of a conductor and discussing the nature of this role in a performance situation.  Performer One begins the work by scattering a handful of rice into the centre of the performance space.  This acts both as a powerful gesture, perhaps representing a cycle of death and renewal (rice as seeds being planted, grown and harvested), and a cue for the performers to begin the composition.  This is followed by four more contrasting ritualistic gestures, which also act as cues for the chant to speed up and gradually fragment.  The next gesture is a repeat of the first, although only the action is performed (the rice is not actually thrown), and Performer One continues repeating the series of five gestures which are used by the other performers as cues.  Just as the Ancient Greek chant transforms into detached musical gestures, the theatrical ritualistic gestures beginning the composition are repeated and act purely as signposts for the musical development. 

It should be noted that all but the first gesture should be performed slowly and fill the time span specified.  The cue to the other performers occurs at the beginning of the gesture, although it is helpful for Performer One to accompany the beginning of the gesture with a slight nod of the head so it is obvious to the performers exactly when the time unit begins and they can move into the next bar.  Overleaf is a series of drawings that show exactly how the gestures should be performed.

Further ambiguity is presented by Performer One starting in bar 18.  The gestures transform into a traditional conducting style, ready for the second half of the introduction with a complex metric series.  This transformation is important, and instructions are written on the score.



Performers in Songs of Incantation  are required to play instruments as well as use voice.  Some of these instruments form part of the 'set' for the piece and are not moved during the performance.  Below is a diagram showing how these instruments are positioned in relation to performers at the beginning of the piece, followed by a key describing the instruments.

Below follows a description of some of the less well-known instruments used in the composition.

GEMS HORN:  Made from a cows horn, this recorder-like instrument has the range of about a tenth from middle C.  It has an extremely hollow tone, and is quite effective both aurally and visually in capturing something ancient.  The music played on the gems horn is designed to provide contrast to the live ritual-like opening, although the two sections are related:  The sound of the gems horn is "evoked" by the ritual performance.  It is important to play the gems horn music with free rhythms, as if improvised.  Some extra effects are added to the notation:  Finger and labium vibrato.  A finger vibrato (notated as fv in the score) is produced by rapidly moving one of the fingers over one of the holes on the instrument, producing a slight fluctuation.  A labium vibrato (notated as L.V. in the score)  is produced by moving the hand over the instrument's wind passage, producing a large fluctuation.


TIBETAN TEMPLE CHIMES: Known by different names, including Nepalese temple bells, this instrument produces an extremely resonant sound because the chimes vibrate at close frequencies.  They are held by the connecting strap, and are played by lightly brushing the edges of the chimes together.

TIBETAN SINGING BOWLS: A truly remarkable instrument, the Tibetan singing bowls are played in a way comparable to running a damp finger around a champagne glass.  The bowls are made from an alloy, and are played by rubbing an evenly surfaced implement around the edge of the instrument.   The slowly pulsing sound is truly magical, and seems to come from nowhere, vibrating at a frequency dependant on the size of the bowl.    



In Songs of Incantation lighting plays an important role, and is essential for a successful performance of the composition.  There are four points where lighting has been specified, although the person in charge of the design has a degree of creative control as long as the basic guidelines below are followed:

1 - Before the performers enter, lighting fades from total darkness until vague and ambiguous shapes can be made out on stage.  The performers enter, and walk slowly to position 1.  Once all the performers have reached this position and the candles are on the pedestals, the lighting fades up to a point where the performers will be able to read their music.

2 - At bar 63, the lighting begins to gradually fade.  This fade to total darkness occurs while the tape part engulfs the sound of the live performance, and should take approximately the same time.  It should be totally dark when the tape part has reached the 1' 30" mark.

3 - Once the tape part reaches the 2 minute mark, performers should be in position 2.  Around this time, a spotlight should highlight the four performers in the central ensemble.  The spotlight fades gradually to darkness after the tape has reached the 5 minute mark.

4 - When the tape part reaches the 19' 30" mark, lighting gradually fades back to how it was when the performers had started the composition (reached position 1).  This fade should take approximately one minute.


The masks are the only 'costumes' that have been specified for use in performance.  However, although the composition alludes to ancient ritual, this should not be too heavily represented through  costumes.  There is supposed to be a certain degree of ambiguity, so over-dramatic masks and costumes (robes or tunics) would be pressing the point.  Performers should be dressed in black  clothes that are pretty much non-representational, and the masks should be simple.  It is important that the masks do not cover the mouth and restrict vocal sound during the performance.


Along with the instruments and music stands, the following props are required during the performance of Songs of Incantation:

Black sheets - to cover all the instruments at the beginning of the composition.

8 Candles/Candlesticks.

8 pedestals - for placing the candles.

Stopwatch - for performer one to control the time intervals at the beginning of the composition.


As well as the pronunciation symbols and standard music notation, there is another notation system that the performers must be familiar with.  This system uses specified time divisions and is for the most part not based on specific pitches, but includes extra-musical elements and performance gestures as part of the system.

The standard notation used does at times incorporate this new system, otherwise at its most extreme it  uses notation that is widely used in contemporary music.  However, the flutes use special "hollow tone" fingerings, which are signified in the score by a black dot above the notes requiring the alternative fingering.  A sound is produced that resembles an ancient instrument.  The fingerings are included in Appendix One at the end of this score.

The dotted line running above the score is the time track, and is used so that the performers are aware of where they are in the piece.  In the opening instrumental introduction Performer One (who has a stopwatch) uses this track to give the other performers a series of cues.  In the rest of the work cues are taken at specific time intervals from the tape part (which is also performed/recorded using a time track).  The numbers above the line are markers for the exact time location of a cue, while the numbers below show how long each time segment actually is.  Lines running vertically from a time marker to the bottom of the score divide the score into time segments, and these lines are referred to as "time signifying lines".  In the live introduction, a cue is given by Performer One when the time has reached the point specified, and the performers move onto the next time segment and wait for the next cue.  The actual notation within the time segments is quite easy to interpret once the performers are familiar with a few simple conventions.  The performers also need to be aware of a series of vocal symbols used in conjunction with the pronunciation symbols and the alternative notation form.   Below is a list of these vocal symbols:

Vocal, instrumental music and performer action can be used simultaneously in the time segments, and there is a simple system for differentiating between these types of notation.  Instrumental notation (i) is surrounded by ( ) brackets and an indicator is given beneath the notation to show what instrument is being specified, and this is also in brackets.  Performer action (ii) is notated descriptively, and it is differentiated by being underlined.  Instructions that are not within brackets or underlined usually refers to the vocal notation (iii) within the time segment.  These instructions often refer to the pitch of a vocal note, which is usually a high, mid-range or low pitch.  The choice of pitch is up to the performer, although they are to aim for variety in the pitches chosen, and avoid traditional sounding intervals.  When not referring to vocal sounds, these instructions can be important in extending the function of the notation symbols and further instructions can be provided off the score using asterisks.  Below are some examples of instrumental, performer action, and vocal notation instructions:

Generally, the notation that is written directly after the time signifying line begins directly on the cue to begin the time segment, and any sound or action which is somewhere within the segment must be performed in approximately the same position in time.  However, any notation that is totally surrounded by a shape (a rectangle or an oval shape) signifies that the action specified within the shape occurs directly on the cue.  This is used in the score when the amount of actions occuring within the time interval prevent the notation from being printed directly after the line, or to ensure that an action/sound will be performed on the cue.  It is important to note that it is possible to perform the action within the enclosed shape at the same time as the other notation which is closest to the time signifying line, if one is a vocal sound and the other is an instrumental sound or performer action. Below are some examples of this type of notation:

Within the time segments, a horizontal line represents unbroken sound, and follows a pronunciation/notation symbol which may or may not be accompanied by further instructions on what type of sound is to be made.  A straight line represents an unaltered pitch, which is specified on  the score as either a mid-range, high or low pitch, unless the sound is unvoiced or instrumental (example 1).  A slowly curving line signifies that the pitch of the sound (usually unvoiced) is to be gradually raised and lowered by altering the position of the lips (example 2).  A rapidly curving  line represents rapid pitch change (example 3).  A gradually ascending or descending line shows that the pitch of the sound gradually gets higher or lower in relation to the amount of time the line fills  (example 4).  Overleaf are some examples of this type of notation:

An unbroken line between any two symbols represents a gradual transformation to the new symbol.  The transformation occurs at the discretion of the performer within the time span provided (example 1).  The presence of an arrowhead completing the line suggests a sudden change to a new sound at the beginning of the next time segment (example 2).  However, if the performer is to change at a time different to the set cues, a smaller vertical line and arrowhead is included within the time segment, and the time intervals are left up to the performer to approximate based on the relative amount of space taken up.  Sometimes approximate intervals are included when the spacing is ambiguous or the exact time is important (example 3).  Below are some examples of this notation:

Sounds within [ ] brackets signify that the sound notated within the bracket is repeated until the next cue.  These sounds can take the form of notation or instructions, and can include further instructions outside the brackets (example 1).  A wavy line leading from the bracket enclosing the specified sound through a time signifying line shows that the recitation continues until an arrowhead is reached (example 2).  When this occurs, instructions for variations in the sounds produced (e.g. speed up or slow down, crescendo or diminuendo) can be written above the line (example 3).  These brackets can also be used to hold repeated texts, and instructions as to how the texts should be read is given above the bracket.  In the tape part and the live introduction, repeated vocal phrases become interspersed with violent syllabic sounds.  These are notated by surounding the interspersing syllable with division lines (example 4).  Although it is most common to use these brackets for vocal sound, they can also be used for instrumental notation that requires a repeated passage or long notes (example 5).  Below are some examples of this type of notation:

It is important to note that the bracket notation form can be used in combination with pronunciation/vocal symbols outside the brackets.  In the example below, the performer gradually transforms from one vocal sound to another while making panting sounds during the time span specified:



The player above is graphic filmisation of the tape-part of this composition; it can also be performed apart from the new music-theatre composition 'Songs of Incantation' by a nine person women's choir (3 solo voices and 6 furies)

The tape part is very important to the development of Songs of Incantation, setting up various points of ambiguity between what is performed live and what is pre-recorded; various musical elements in the tape part echo elements that have been introduced by the live performers, and there is much interplay between the two parts during the composition.  The score for the tape part is at least as equally complicated as the live performance notation, and the notation systems used are basically the same.  Performer dynamics are of course quite different.  It is interesting to note that the tape part can be performed alone, and was initially used in a fragmented form for a dance/theatre production.[*] However, the live performance part requires the tape.  It is included as part of the full score in a short form , which includes cues for the performers and other information about what is happening on the tape part.  The time track for the tape part is used in the full score, and there are times when sounds on tape directly affect the live performers.

The tape part is performed by nine vocalists, who are divided into two smaller groups:  Three solo voices and six Furies.  This division is important, both because they require different types of vocal performers and because they develop independently during  development in the score.  The solo voices need to be singers, and the Furies need to be dramatic vocalists. 

The tape part begins with four minutes of sibilant sound from the Furies, who are then joined by the solo voices who start developing fragments of Ancient Greek text in a detached syllabic style.  The sibilant wind sound of the Furies develops into whispered fragments of texts, and the solo voices start piecing the syllables into Ancient Greek words.  The 9 minute mark is very important because the solo voices start singing and speaking fragments of Ancient Greek text.  Notation in the tape score for the solo voices is an approximation of the sung melody in relation to the time track and does not need to be strictly followed. It is more important to keep the speed of the melody relatively constant, and fit the texts in the spaces in the melody rather than in time with the Furies on the score.

As well as voice, the tape score requires a number of instruments:  Hand held thunder sheets, suspended chimes and bottle tones.  In order to exaggerate the ambiguity of what is on tape and what is performed live, the same thunder sheets and chimes used in the recording should be used in the live performance.  Bottle tones refers to the ethereal sound made when blowing over the top of a bottle, and six different tones are required for each of the Furies. Instruments and vocalists must be recorded in stereo, and overleaf is a diagram showing a planned stereo picture, which can be used as a guideline for performing positions while recording.  It is important to maintain the integrity of this diagram in the final stereo mix because this symmetrical structure relates to the positioning of the live music.  This diagram envisages the perfect recording environment.  The first recording of the tape part required much separate track work, but the integrity of the voice positioning was maintained by panning tracks during the mix down.

There are a number of special effects that must be added to the tape part during the mix down by using a reverberation device.

(i)  1' - 4' :  Reverberation on the sibilant sound of the Furies to make it sound like wind.  Sound of the sibilant voices can also be adjusted further in the studio to exaggerate this effect.

(ii) 4' - 8' 20" :  Reverberation gradually fades away on the Furies.

(iii) 12' - 14' 30" :  Solo voices gradually fade away and become distant by decreasing volume and increasing reverberation.

The tape part first makes its appearance in the composition at the beginning of bar 63.  The sound of wind becomes gradually dominant and at the 1' 30" mark (in the tape score) it has totally dominated the sound of the performers.  To achieve this effect, it would be good to have two speakers behind (or underneath) the audience as well as behind the performers so they feel totally surrounded by the sound.  At about the 2' mark the performers have reached position 3, and the tape part has decreased in volume.  The wind sound remains audible, but is soft in comparison to the solo voices which can be heard as an imposition above the instrumental music played by the central ensemble.  As the melody is picked up by the external instrumental ensemble playing in the darkness, the tape part becomes gradually more dominant (to account for the fact that more live instruments are playing).  When the singing starts on the tape at the 9' mark, echoing the melody performed by the live ensemble, it should be dominant and the Ancient Greek texts should be heard as a powerful element of the performance.  However, the tape part should not be at its loudest point until the Furies on tape have completely overtaken the solo voices.  The climactic point is at the 17' 45" mark on the tape score, and there should be a gradual crescendo towards this point.  From the 9' mark, the tape part remains a dominant force in the composition, even though the performers start chanting along with the tape at the15' 45" mark.  


SONGS OF INCANTATION   was commissioned by Evos Music, as part of a concert of new music-theatre works organized by the composer.

It took place at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts in Australia thanks to the following performers and technicians:

Performer One - Evan Kennea

Performer Two - Alia-Enor Bath

Performer Three - Maria Lscsei

Performer Four - Megan Griffiths

Performer Five - Justine Thornley

Performer Six - Samantha Jones

Performer Seven - Elizabeth Jennings

Performer Eight - Romola Brennan


DIRECTION - Zachàr Laskewicz

LIGHTING - David Fussell

SOUND -  Andrew Beck

Tape part recorded and mixed by Andrew Beck and Zac Laskewicz, with the following performers:

 Solo Voices 1-3 - Denise Murray, Judith Maitland, Lee Shew-lee

 Furies 1-6 -  Fiona Tholet, Tanya Vidigal, Francesca Meehan, Jane Prendergast, Bronwyn Turnbull, Anna Brockway

Instruments - Zachàr Laskewicz and Perry Greenland


Janet Lee, for inspiration that sparked the creation of this project through her dance/theatre production  Agamemnon and the Brides of Death.

 Dr. Judith Maitland, for invaluable assistance with the Ancient Greek text.  We can thank Judith for all the translations, as well as assistance with pronunciation and notation of the texts.

 Romola Brennan, for assistance with composition for the Gems Horn.

 Dr. David Moody, for supporting this composition project and research into new music-theatre.

 Andrew Beck, for providing invaluable technical assistance with the recording and mixing of the tape part, and input into other areas of production, including instrument building.

 Lynne Mitchell, for support and invaluable assistance with organizing and promoting the concert venture Songs of Incantation  through Evos Music.

 Ricardo Peach, for building the instruments used in the first performance of Songs of Incantation.

 David Fussell, for drawing the diagrams of the ritual conducting gestures and instruments.

[*] The tape part also exists as a separate composition which can be performed live by a nine headed female choir (3 soloists and 3 furies). More information at the following link: 9701-SIN.



May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)
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Last modified:
May 30, 2008