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 way2. She 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”5, Berberian 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
“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.