The Folk voice begun as a return to the past while the Extended one as an expressionistic capture of humans’ failure and desperation. What could represent a new future?


The development of technology the past hundred years was to dominate a world used to classical concert halls and live resonances. The saltation to an era of perfected audio recordings and electronic compositions changed music into “a radically virtual medium, an art without a face”1.


In 1878, Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph, mentioned in an essay that his invention would “annihilate time and space, and bottle up for posterity the mere utterance of man”2

John Philip Sousa worried in 1906 that “these talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music”3 and the critic Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt reflected that “the machine is neither a god nor a devil”4

In 1928, a British critic wrote “I wonder if pure tone will disappear from the earth sometimes”5.

When Deems Taylor, a composer and critic, listened to a pioneering stereophonic recording in 1931 descanted “The difference between what we usually hear and what I heard was, roughly, the difference between looking at a photograph of somebody and looking at the person himself”6.

Hans Fantel, an author and critic, wrote in 1989 about listening the last recording of Vienna Philharmonic playing Mahler’s Ninth Symphony before Hitler crushed Vienna “That’s what made me realise something about the the nature of phonographs: they admit no ending. They imply perpetuity . . . Something of life itself steps over the normal limits of time”7 .


According to Alex Ross, the process of recording gave also to performers and composers the possibility to “invent their own reality in the studio”8. Electronic compositions “constructed intricate studio soundscapes that could never be replicated on-stage”9.


This might was the promise of future’s music. The dream of another world, where sound remains perpetual, breaks the limits of spacetime and offers endless soundscapes. In this new reality, which visions of humankind were expressed through the use of the voice?

The Absent Voice


The magnetic process brought the possibility of a new medium , the pre-recorded voice. The Absent Voice, describes a voice that lacks of a physically present performer.









Karlheinz Stockhausen Gesang der Jünglinge (1956)

In 1955, few years after his experimentation on building up sounds from sine tones at Cologne Studio10, Karlheinz Stockhausen composed the electronic music work Gesang Der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths), which was described as "the first uncontested masterpiece of the new medium”11 . With the various electronic manipulation of pre-recorded voice, he “marked out a  new ease in dynamiting acoustic space that has remained one of the genuine strengths of electronic resources"12


In this foundational pioneering work, the angelic one of a 12-years-old boy soprano is singing a text derived from an apocryphal Bible (Third Book of Daniel), in which three youths tossed into fire are rescued by an Angel due to their faith-song13Among the electronic sounds and white noise, the boy sings fragments creating layers in space. “The vocal material is situated in various layers and spatial relationships to the listener within a texture of inorganic sounds that seem to slither beneath or erupt out of the vocal material”14.

In a way, a new consciousness awaked in the history of music. One could say that Stockhausen, experiencing the throe of war since childhood, was searching for a new world through his musique concrète. The voice of a child sings to the memory of an innocent youth and the allegory of an angel15. Man has not seen the angel, nor the Siren, who is revealed by an impersonal voice behind the speakers.

The boy's voice through the loudspeaker was a hope for the deliverance of humankind. It expressed the faith that the angel might exists. “Its feminine , doughy premasculinity is not that of an individual person’s voice but rather a nameless symbol of universalised humanity questioning God”16. Could man find salvation after all?








Morton Felddman Three Voices (1982)



Voice through loudspeakers opened a new path, where the interactions between taped sound and live performance were to be explored17


Three voices, the last work for solo voice by Morton Feldman before his death in 1987,  was written for and performed by Joan La Barbara, another great muse of the avant-garde composers, composer and performer herself.  Described as “trio for one”, the “soprano Joan La Barbara sings one of the work’s musical lines, while accompanied by the work’s remaining musical lines, which are played back by two synchronised tapes of her voice through two loudspeakers that are placed visibly on stage on the side of the live performer”18


Feldman, captivated by the “elusive nature of Time”19, explored his desire for pure material and abstraction as unconsummated imagery20. The interaction between the three homogenous voices in material and space, transcends the instrument of the human voice. “For most composers, instruments are a way of transcending their musical material to something greater. Feldman, however, succeeded with his musical material in transcending the instruments themselves; wrote music which would transcend their sound; dissolved them into a world of pure sound”21.

The loudspeaker is a main tool for this transcendence. Its deliberate use reveals new visions and symbolisms. The composer associated it with the dualism of life and death, the dead and alive, the machine and human. As he explains: "One of my closest friends, the painter Philip Guston, had just died; Frank O’Hara had died several years before. I saw the piece with Joan in front and these two loudspeakers behind her. There is something kind of tombstoney about the look of loudspeakers. I thought of the piece as an exchange of the live voice with the dead ones – a mixture of the living and the dead’22. The Absent voice transcends the world we know, the one of the living, moves from the past to the present and all these dimensions interact between them.  









Janet Cardiff Forty Part Motet (2001)



Total extension of the loudspeaker use came with the sound installation Forty Part Motet by the Canadian multimedia artist Janet Cardiff.


An interpretation of Thomas Tallis’s motet Spem in Alium is performed by forty loudspeakers placed in an oval through the hall. Each voice, recorded individually by the Salisbury Cathedral Choir, sings the Renaissance polyphony creating a “virtual choir”23 with a new perspective of intimacy. “Not only visitors can hear each individual voice, but they also hear the sounds the bodies make, the breathing, the vocal imperfections - particular sounds that disappear in the harmony”24. Loudspeakers are encountered as another kind of performers and open a new door for the experience of the close up voice, the melodies in a huge polyphony, the resonances and the space. They expose sounds that wouldn’t be heard with the performers' physical presence.


“People sit quietly on centrally located benches. Some have their eyes close. Others walk slowly around the circumference of the speakers as the sound resonates with their bodies.”25  It seems as an almost futuristic landscape. A hall with singing machines performing melodies written centuries ago and creatures, in this case humans, walk through them with curiosity and awe. 


Cardiff described the two main aspects of space and intimacy:

 “I saw the score and how it moved, page after page […] almost like water in a river moving around. That all became part of idea to place [the loudspeakers] in such a way that people could experience the movement from the one side to another.”

“To me the connection with intimacy to this piece became really apparent, because no audience member’s would stand up to singer. But technology is invisible to the audience, so they feel very comfortable with it”26


Loudspeaker is a medium that allows a “different attunement to being in this age”27 and a “fuller awareness of how the past and future intertwine with the present”28

Kristia Michael   ÆR I (2021)


Inspired and influenced by the quality of the loudspeaker as an absent performer and a medium for the association of the machine and performer, I composed several works meant to be performed in a sound installation environment.


One of them was ÆR I (2021) for four speakers, in which a structured spectrum of 12 individual pitches  spreads into space. The loudspeakers are mounted in a circle, as a vocal ensemble would stand, and the audience can pass through them, walk between them  or sit in the centre of the circle.

The idea was for the machines to resonate with the listeners through the pitches that functioned as sound events from different directions. I find a strange romanticism and intimacy in the perception of the machine as a source of a disembodied voice. This, along with the fact that all tracks use the same (my) voice, creates an oneiric environment.   


The conception of the particular pitches was made in an attempt to create harmonic blocks, which then were spread vertically and horizontally in order to the creation of a structure in which pitches are diluted or concentrated in space.


The name ÆR comes from the ancient Greek  "ᾱ̓ήρ", meaning air, space or wind. 






THEMATIC III      A N O T H E R   W O R L D :  T h e   Absent, Transformed & Replaced   V o i c e




Janet Cardiff talks about her sound installation of Forty Part Motet at Tate Modern, in 2017.


The Opening of Three Voices, recorded by Joan La Barbara,

published in 1989 ny New Albion Records.

Gesang der Jünglinge performed live by Stockhausen, at the Polar Music Prize Ceremony 2021.