Sue Tompkins, 'My Kind Book', 2011, online book and reading.

At the end of last year, Sue Tompkins performed her 2010 work, ‘Hallo welcome to Keith Street‘ as part of the launch for her web-based book My Kind Book at Dia:Chelsea, New York. My Kind Book reveals Tompkins’ relationship towards word and voice. Her act of transposition, moving off the page and into performance, is displayed as a subject in its own right.

Read / Listen to the book.

And watch the performance.


Working primarily with radio, artist Gregory Whitehead has developed sound compositions, poems, lectures and plays for nearly 30 years. The potency of his sound works are derived from juxtaposing linguistic and abstract noise, and the accumulation of disembodied voice patterns. Whitehead’s practice points not to the materiality of sound, but rather what he terms as underlying relationships of living/dead, present/removed, outcast/audience.

While sounds can be controlled, these underlying relationships are extremely unstable, and sometimes you just have to give into what they want to do. So there is the wily spirit of the Trickster, perhaps, who has the humour to be both master and victim of the scene.

If a Voice Like, Then What?, 1984, 2m 48s, voice cut-up, Tellus cassette

Zigurrat, 1984, 4m 38s, dance soundtrack and compilation release, chant degeneration

At Musik Centrum Stockholm in the 1980s, composer and musician Phil Minton set up a series of open workshops and invited members of the public to participate in a forthcoming choir performance. The result was The Feral Choir, a format Minton continues to this day and develops worldwide. Comprising primarily of ‘non-singers’ who learn and use improvisation over Minton’s 3-day workshop, the Feral Choir is Minton’s concept of an ensemble that can sing without cultural influences or references.

Phil Minton’s Feral Choir at Brest, Part 1

Phil Minton’s Feral Choir at Brest, Part 2

Georges Aperghis (born 1945) is a composer known for creating works that synthesise instrument, voice, and text, and which go against the hierarchies of orchestra and theatre environments. Born in Greece and now based in Paris, his prolific output includes pieces for orchestras, chamber music, and solo. In 1976 he founded music theatre workshop Atelier Théâtre et Musique (ATEM). Many of his operas are based on cultural or historical figures including Edgar Allen Poe, Alain Badiou, Heiner Muller and Adolf Wofli.

Récitations, written 1977-88, is an ambitious and difficult work for solo female voice. Agglomeration of high notes are interrupted with coughs, mutters, and stray words seemingly spoken out of turn. Based around extended vocal technique, the work’s discontinuous form falls between musical and verbal support structures, and forces the singer to build their own vocal character in the interstices of word and sound.

Daniel Durney writes:

By the time Georges Aperghis was writing Récitations in 1978, he had already commenced experimenting with the unlikely blending of sounds and words and in so doing had discovered that logic more often than not begins to stray in such alchemy.

His previous works, especially those in the domain of music-theatre and opera – De la nature de l’eau [1974] Jacques le Fataliste [1974] Histoires be Loup [1976] – are dotted with snares, double meanings and labyrinths of superposed words and actions which expel rational explanation, cloud the issue, and divert attention. The music seemingly finds its strength as the words gradually fade in meaning, a process which endows these compositions with a haunting beauty…

Automatic repetition puts all meaning to flight and is rendered more poetic by the sight of the schoolchild reciting by heart she falters, she catches up, falters again.

This utilisation of repetition introduces the concept of accumulative processes which can be observed in later works such as Conversations [1988], Enumerations [1988] H [1992]. Trying to make sentences and small groups of words bend to arbitrary rules and structures recalls the formal language games played by the lettristes, Jacques Roubaud and Georges Perec. However, when both music and words are subjected to this treatment, as in the case of Récitation, (a major work in Aperghis’ output), the result is an inimitable amalgam of susceptibility and burlesque, hallmark of the inventiveness and engaging musical personality of this composer.

Récitation 8: central part, vertical version

Récitation 8: Right Part, vertical version

Récitation 8: left part, vertical version

Meredith Monk performing 'Our Lady of Late', 1972

Meredith Monk’s, ‘Our Lady of Late’ was performed in 1975 at the Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado. Abstract and pre-verbal in character, it was composed in 1972 as a harmonic piece for a single voice and glass. A number of reworkings have surfaced in recent years, perhaps most notably Nick Hallett’s performance at the New Museum, New York, in May 2009. Hallett’s description of the event follows.

The performer begins by singing in unison with the fingered glass, then gradually diverging from the pitch in microtonal increments, which results in the phenomenon of “beats,” rhythmic pulses that are created in the interference patterns of two waveforms. Eventually, vibrato is added into the mix. In this way, Our Lady of Late introduces its audience to “extended vocal technique,” wherein the singer explores a diverse vocabulary of sounds and performative states.