The return to the roots does not concern a return to the past. Any musical or artistic practice can only be contemporary since we exist in the present. Thus, contemporary performance practices of ancient or folk music represent an "intensification of the present"1, describing its aesthetics and context.


Berio commented in an interview: ""Classical" vocal music, [...] obviously transcended the bitumen of everyday vocal behavior. [...] The voice of a great "classical" singer is a bit like a signed instrument which, as soon as you have finished playing, you put away in a case. It has nothing to do with the voice that the great singer uses to communicate in everyday life"2.


It seems that the exploration of the roots by the composers in the beginning of the 20th century has gradually led the contemporary composers and audiences to find beauty into timbres and vocal techniques far from the "classically" trained voices and much closer to a more natural approach. Did the bel canto era come to an end? Or did the bel canto by definition "beautiful singing" changed its means?  Nobody can doubt the powerful agility of Maria Callas or Joan Sutherland, but times change and music evolves along with the Siren who follows. 


The turn to the Folk voice was not only an unavoidable depart from the bel canto era for the sake of evolution, but indicated a deeper search considering the human nature. Humans are creatures with a conscious and wide range of mental and physical abilities. In post-war societies, the exploration regarding their identity and roots was necessary in order to make a new beginning and proceed to a new spiritual path.


Alex Ross discusses regarding the contemporary approach of the voice: "The music of this century has tried to assimilate and control not only every aspect of "classical" singing, but also those aspects which, both because of acoustic considerations and because they disturbed the message, had necessarily been excluded from tonal music - along with the behavior and the sounds of everyday life"3.

The words of Ross reflect also on the Extended voice, connecting it with the Folk. Contemporary vocal aesthetics moved to an area which extends the human voice in the wide spectrum of its normal (everyday) use and brings The Scream to the music. The Siren finds a way to be released in these sounds.


Simultaneously, the possibilities of the Absent, Transformed and Replaced voice created another dimension where the voice deviates from the human nature. The spiral of connections continues. In order to progress and change their history, humans first need to search and learn from it. Then, a question arises: What happens after that?

Human voice is still the source of the musical creation, but it manages to transcend the physical world and human nature through machines.  As long as these voices are considered as composition tools and not end in themselves, they do contribute in  artistic, aesthetic and technological innovations or experimentations.

Ross discusses the technological dominance: "Classical music stands partly outside the technological realm, because most of its repertory is designed to resonate naturally within a room"4 With this thought, the physical impact of a naturally resonated voice remains necessary as a corporeal experience that can not be replaced. He continues: "By contrast, almost all pop music is written for microphones and speakers"5. "In a totally mediated society, where some form of electronic sound saturates nearly every minute of our walking lives, the act of sitting down in a concert hall, joining the expectant silence in the moments before music begins, and surrendering to the elemental properties of sound can have an almost spiritual dimension"6.

The medium is not that important in the end. What is important is the way that music and art are presented or performed. What is important is the ritual that music offers either in personal or collective level. This goes back to Lisa Gerrard's interview "Music is a package for sentiment, of poetic language between people and whatever vehicle you decide to use, the ultimate ideal [for both, the creator and the performer] is to [reach] into the heart"7Future is always enigmatic and uncertain, but this quality of sound, voice, music and art is unquestionably eternal.


Ross's vision of a "great fusion" seems to give the best description to contemporary aesthetics. Composers and performers, "in the freedom of their solitude, they can communicate experiences of singular intensity"8. The personal element arises like a personal universe ready to be shared, having endless tools and possibilities to shape. Ultimately, voice embraces this infinite world of possibilities, by providing to the composers tools to shape, craft and explore; leading to the evolution of vocal aesthetics.   

The 21st century merges the Folk, Extended, Absent, Transformed and Replaced voice and creates the Siren.


Homer's Sirens are absent, without any physical description. Only their voice is audible. According to Hesiod in the 6th century BCE, “having offended Aphrodite by choosing to live as virgins, they grew wings and flew to an island called “Anthemoessa” (“Flowery”) where Zeus assigned them a home”9. By the end of the century, they acquired human torsos and arms with which they played instruments like lyre and double aulos to accompany their own singing. 


In the medieval era,  Macrobius (430 CE) assures that “Siren” was the greek word for “singing to God”10 while Boethius (ca. 523 CE) describes them “deadly sweet”11. In the early eighth century, the writer of Liber monstrorum gives them fishtails and describes them as “sea-girls, who deceive sailors with the outstanding beauty of their appearance and the sweetness of their song”12 In the thirteenth century, Guillaume de Lorris describes their voices as pure and serene13. A century later Dante compares the beauty of their singing with that of the Muses14, while Petrarch confesses that he should have closed his ears to their call, but he wasn’t ready to repent. 


In Christian theology what signifies her most is her femaleness. Her song is presumably “as feminine as her upper body”15In the middle ages and renaissance, she emerges from Virgin Mary and the allegory of Donna Angelicata (angelic lady). Symbol of divinity, purity, spiritual perfection, virtuous and discreet. Her external beauty and physical abilities mirror her inner world, making her almost unattainable. She inspires the poet and troubadour in life and in death and in return she is devoted to their verse, displaying sublime and pure thoughts without transgression16

The 21st century comes to merge all the characteristics that constructed the mythical creature in the past. The Siren is a combination of transformative physical and spiritual characteristics. Her vocal abilities vary from clear tones to extended vocal techniques, from embodied to disembodied frequencies, from pleasant to painful sounds. She is a present or an absent body that transforms. Truthful to art, she is in a constant research for her nature and humans who can resonate with her, attempting to create and share music and beauty.


The Siren expresses a "romantic determinism combined with a kind of a medieval expressionism, the thirst of a young existence to live, the collective pain, the lost of love. This feeling that god abandoned us in our burning forests, this need to exist without any commitments, the need to touch the blue of an August day, the emptiness of the meta historical experiences, this lost of concrete manners"17





illustration 1: The Siren as half woman and half bird (detail) from MS Ludwig XV 3 (83.MR.173), fol. 78

France, 13th century.

illustration 2: The Siren as half woman and half fish 

from Royal MS 10 E. iv, Folio 47r.

France, 1330-1340; 

illustration 3: The Siren (1911) carried by an angel, sculpture by Denis Puech.