Landscape with figures II


Intermezzi fragment


The piece Intermezzi for 8 voices (SSAATTBB) [15'30'] was written 2004,[1] and has never been performed. Through studies of phonetics (IPA),[2] descriptions of vocal possibilities by Trevor Wishart,[3] and notation in Time and motion study III[4] by Brian Ferneyhough, a multidimensional vocabulary for voices was found. The singers would need to continously master combinations of:


  • Quartertone intonation with minor inflections.
  • A vocabulary of sounds from normal tone to noise:
  • Normal voice.
  • Half breath, half voice.
  • Pitched breath.
  • Whisper.
  • Spoken, relative pitches ("sprechgesang").
  • Head tones.
  • Transitions between normal and head tones. The technique is related to yodeling, while doing it as a trill or ornament on a single note, can create intentionally awkvard effects, like instabilities of pitch or register jumps. If head tones are not available in the register on the particular voice, a headtone can be simulated by a breathy voice.
  • Half-lunged multiphonic.[5]
  • Indrawn air used on most other sonorities.
  • Lung flutter.[6] Trevor Wishart demonstrated this on the accompanying cd, but singers avoided it in my pieces, as it could be harmful to the voice.
  • Unpitched roar.[7] These sounds come from exaggerated air stream splitting tones into noise.
  • Subharmonics. These can range from stable suboctaves to irregular vocal clicks. Transitions between normal voice and subharmonics are possible.


These are mostly known vocal techniques which have been defined and used elsewhere. This piece requires the capability to switch fluently through a large repertoire of human sounds.


  • Degrees of vibrato used as ornamentations. The default sound is non vibrato.
  • Amplitude vibrato, "almost like laugh,"[8] used in performances of Monteverdi.
  • Hand movements in front of the mouth.
  • The international phonetic alphabet (with minor exceptions in definitions). Charts with sound examples exist,[9]  though interpretations of phonems tend to have slight differences between these demonstrations.
  • Overtone singing. Phonetic transitions and combinations were attempts to capture overtones in notation, as clear as possible with nasal qualities. Overtone singing, whenever possible has been an intention in all my works involving singers. The result will naturally depend on type of voice and available formants in the particular register, and experience with mongolian vocal techniques.
  • Multiplexes.[10] My version of this improvisational category demonstrated by Trevor Wishart is writing multiple trills, defining all components of the improvisations through phonetics and the above mentioned types of vocal timbres.


For several works after Intermezzi, I narrowed the range of sonorities down for practical reasons. The collaboration with the vocal ensemble Song Circus gave a possibility to have experiences with the full range of vocal sounds used in Intermezzi. Through collaborations with Trevor Wishart and Ole Henrik Moe, their diverse backgrounds and vocal qualities, as well as their experience as improvisers, Song Circus could give life to these ideas.


All the 16 Intermezzi Fragments in Landscape with figures II, are self quotations taken out from the context of the older work Intermezzi, rearranged for 5 female voices.


From the original score of Intermezzi:
















































































Some sounds would have to be skipped or summarized in a single voice. In this example the deep notes did not need to be skipped, as Eva Bjerga Haugen can reach well down in a tenor register.



































































AB Intermezzi fragments 1-3



Some places it would be hard for a five part group to reproduce the sonorities of an eight part group. The problematic initial lung flutters were not included in the quotation.









































In this example, the choir harmonizer[11] adds remaning bass and tenor tones to the voice of Eva, in just intonation ad hoc tuning. Examples of this tuning approach are shown for the Antiphonal groups. Related ’pure intervals’[12] replace equal tempered notations. The chord goes through many of the above mentioned inflections of timbre and vibrato.


  • Notes transform between full sound and half breath.
  • The ’yodeling’ transitions between normal and headtone are present in Eva’s part. This register was better suited for real headtones for the tenor parts from Intermezzi.
  • Normal airstream transitions to half-lunged multiphonics. The difference from subharmonics sounds is that multiphonics generally are in a higher register. Grainy, whistling, improvised or stable sounds are possible, and phonetics define register and timbre of multiphonics. Some improvisers will have a large vocabulary within these types of sounds.








































BM Intermezzi fragment 12




Subharmonic voice and half-lunged multiphonics are both results of low air pressure on the vocal chords. Transitions from tone to multiphonics or subharmonics imply gradually diminishing air pressure, while a transition from subharmonic to multiphonics can be done with a constant low air pressure, while gradually moving upwards in register. Outbursts of amplitude vibrato adds a conflict, as the higher air pressure will cause outbursts of normal voice. This is intended, the score is a map of actions to perform, not an exact notation of timbral phenomena.


AO Intermezzi fragment 11

















































The water effects are slurping sounds with inhaled breath.[13] Vowel transitions on breath sounds create transitions of pitch. Trills at the go between two different sounds. This is a simple version of what Trevor Wishart could define as a multiplex. I did not include multiplexes with many sounds in Landscape with figures II, while there are examples in the score of Intermezzi. Song Circus came closer to the multiplex idea through their live and preprocessed Joyce-improvisations.


The vocal writing was a beginning for all the Intermezzi fragments, ensemble parts were composed on top of many of them, to various degress, thickening existing vocal textures or presenting coexisting parallel strata. Only in rare cases were the quartertones doubled by microtonal organ.




[3] Wishart, 1996, On Sonic Art.

[5] Wishart, 1996, On Sonic Art, p. 273.

[6] Wishart, 1996, On Sonic Art, p. 264. The sound is demonstrated and named "windpipe".

[7] Ibid. p. 271.

[8] Ibid. p. 274.

[9] Ladefoged, 2003, Vowels and Consonants, 191. 

[10] Wishart, 1996, On Sonic Art, p. 278.

[11] The psychoirtrist~ MaxMsp object from Ircam.

[12] Meaning based on simple number ratios from the overtone series.

[13] Wishart, 1996, On Sonic Art, p. 274.