THEMATIC  II      B E Y O N D   BEL   C A N T O :  T h e    Extended    V o i c e




Cathy Berberian Stripsody (1966)


The influence of futurism, dadaism and lettrism in the music field  combined with new search regarding notation, brought a most-of-the-times unbreakable bond between extended notation, extended vocal techniques and performance art. 

Cathy Berberian was among the greatest figures of the 1950s' who pioneered within this bond as a vocalist, performer and composer1. She opened an enormous gate to vocalists and composers and led them to the finding of the Siren. She was herself a Siren.

No one had ever sung that way2She brought contemporary music closer to the classical audiences and, as Louis Andriessen claimed,  popular music closer to avant-garde3. The combination of her open spirit, her constant experimentation, the exploration of the vocal instrument, her presence on stage and the power of even her smallest gesture, resulted in unique performances. She "changed the history of music" regarding to what was/is considered contemporary vocal music. She also showed to vocalists that the wider vocal extension will not nencessarily "ruin your voice"4


In her work Stripsody, which was characterised as “a six-minute sound effects piece for solo voice”5Berberian was inspired by comic strip noises. Using graphic notation, she created a collection of different vocal sounds and personas: everyday sounds such as coughing, sneezing, whistling, screaming, snorting , imitation of animals (cat, dog, chicken), fragment by Verdi's aria ("Sempre libera"), Schubert's lullaby and more. The performance of the piece required "great acting ability, absolutely no inhibitions, and an ability to change the sound of the voice at will; there are no creative limits”6


In a documentary, Luciano Berio described how she was "a point of reference" for all the avant-garde composers of the time and referred to her with words such as: "incredible voice", "astonishing mind", "curious", "always in the move, never set", "sensitive"7. Her "wide exploration of vocal possibilities"8 was fascinating and inspirational for her collaborators. Great composers of the time were composing for her, some of them: Berio, Cage, Pousseur, Andriessen, Bussotti, Milhaud, Maderna and Stravinsky.


Being a muse for composers and performers, with her love and passion for music, she left inspiration and a reference to what is described as a "Siren" in this exposition. As she wished: "Music is the air I breathe and the planet I inhabit. The only way I can pay my debt to music is by bringing it to others, with all my love."9



Personal Practice

“This [Dionysian Beauty] was a joyous and dangerous Beauty, antithetical to reason and often depicted as possession and madness: it is the nocturnal side of the mild Attic sky, populated by initiation mysteries and obscure sacrificial rites […] This disturbing nocturnal Beauty was to remain concealed until the modern age, only to emerge as the secret and vital reservoir of contemporary expressions of Beauty, thus revenging itself on the beautiful harmony of the Classical world”10

I found the Dionysian beauty, as defined by Uberto Eco, interwoven with The Scream. The nocturnal beauty is expressed through wild and subhuman sounds and I feel that the more I have contact with this dimension, the more I release this secret nature. In the following works, which were composed for my performance Songs from the Garden, I attempted to deliver the above. 

Samir TimajChi Unknown (2021)


With a gas mask covering the face, the work was meant to deliver a sense of drowning. The composer explained:


"We already made so many identities' masks to marginalize ourselves through history. These borders are killing the empathetic and sympathetic feelings with which we somehow see humans. They are drowning, wailing for the last hope, and waiting for someone to offer a hand. In the very slow tempo that shows the strong gravity of last moment’s life, the bombards of sounds grab into so many temporary and unstable materials for saving a life."11

In discussion with Samir, the vocal sounds included: heavy breathes, inhalation phonation, vocal fry, screams and wailings through the distorted syllables of an Iranian poem. 

Incapable to escape, I was experiencing a saturated affliction which simultaneously kept the scream alive until the very end. The torment and anguish were embodied physically through the mask and vocally through the extended techniques.

Voice somehow accompanies the contrabass player in this painful yet dynamic journey.  

Andys Skordis SHE...NEN (2021)

"SHE...NEN" ("abyss" in Japanese) according to the composer Andys Skordis "is a ritual where you explore a rite of passages, starting from fragile, moving into intensity and coming back to fragile as a state of catharsis"12.

Our collaboration started back in 2019 and since then we worked together in an opera, concerts and several projects for prerecorded voice. As a composer, he knew my voice, capabilities and stage presence and these became compositional tools:

"Working with you was the most important element to finalise the composition. Getting to know your stamina possibilities as well as your limits, how to treat your voice in a way that I could involve intense pressure on you while not creating damage, listening to the way you approach microtonality and ornamentation and how you perceive each single moment [...]

"Your voice has a special and unique characteristic. It can move from the absolute fragility to the maximum intensity smoothly, without pressure and always with an honest approach. Your voice and the way you perform engages me in a practise that keeps me focused, makes me reflect with you and travel into the world you are creating [...]  

"Your range, going from the very low to the very high, the texture of your voice including screaming and other vocal effects, ornamentation, your approach to a rhythmically open section, where you would establish the pulse between the notes, and most importantly the fragility of your voice. The tender fragility you project when you sing so purely, that captivates the listener and makes one feel close to you, like a voice from an angel. [...] An attempt to feature all these characteristics of your voice and performance in a single piece of music"13

SHE...NEN brings the Folk and Extended Voices together in order to deliver the mystic rite. I divided the piece in three kind of voices 1) The Ancient Sibyl: The gong paves the way for a section influenced by Byzantine hymns and Gregorian chants, for which I tried to transform the timbre and use a variety of ornamentation (influenced also by Lisa Gerrard), as being in an ancient liturgy 2) The Angelic: the pure vocal sound in the high register which develops into a distorted high scream - when the words "star-made gate" come - in order to arrive to 3) The Subhuman, which uses throat sounds, high screams, vocal fry and loud inhalation phonation, reaching the climax.
In contrast with Unknown by TimajChi, The Scream in this work does not reveal any desperation, but a kind of an intense release, as in the state of trance. The "star-made gate" is a place within the realms of pleasure. The performer is not human anymore, but enters into a new dimension of existence, with new instincts and powers. I attempted to approach the whole piece, but especially this part with eroticism:

"The piece has an “erotic” nature. The whole ritual resembles an erotic procedure that one enters and explores. Ending with its conclusion or the beginning of a new cycle. [...] As two entities, you and the instrumentalists create a dialogue where one takes the lead, passes it to the other one and then back again, united"14 


Samir TimajChi "Unknown" (2021) 

Premiered in November 18th, 2021, at Dom Radio,

with Carlos Navarro Herrero. 

examples of extended vocal techniques in the piece:

-heavy breathing and inhalation phonation start at 00:55

-vocal fry 01:54, 02:40, 06:46 (final)

-screams 02:19, 02:54

-throat sounds 02:48, 03:35 

Cathy Berberian talks about her involvement in contemporary vocal aesthetics, the development of the extended vocal techniques,  her vocal capabilities and her composition Stripsody (1966).

Fragments of the works Circles and Sequenza III, which were written for her by Luciano Berio.

Fragments from the documentary dedicated to her Music is the air I breathe (1994). Edited for research purposes.

Luciano Berio - Berberian's lover, husband and companion in Art for years - describes her figure as the Siren.

Fragments from the documentary Music is the air I breathe (1994). Edited for research purposes.

Andys Skordis SHE...NEN

Premiered in November 18th, 2021 

at Dom Radio, St. Petersburg.

with Musicaeterna soloists: Eugeniy Subbotin, Irina Sopova,

Olga Dyomina, Carlos Navarro Herrero and Georgy Mansurov.

Combining the Ancient Sibyl:

deeper timbral,nasal sounds, traditional ornaments,

microtones control of vibrato, tremolo, chest voice resonance.



The Angelic:

non vibrato and high still pure tones.

The Subhuman:

which starts developing at 07:55.