The Vocal Constructivists are extremely sad to learn that the artist Tom Phillips CBE RA, ‘the most literal man’, died on 28 November 2022. Climbing through the window to get acquainted with Irma, Grenville, the Nurse, Toge and all his friends, has been a pivotal experience on the VC journey. We continue to ‘stir the violet notes’, as the words that Phillips revealed and concealed resound and shape our ongoing collages of sounds and syllables. It was ‘an unbelievable dream’ to prepare and perform Irma in his presence, both in person and online.
The Vocal Constructivists returned to Pentameters Theatre on 20 December 2022 to perform 1952 at 70, in celebration of the 70th birthday of landmark experimental pieces. VCs offered fresh interpretations of Earle Brown’s December 1952 and John Cage’s 4’33”, alongside works by Morton Feldman, György Ligeti, Otto Luening, Władysław Szpilman, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and a premiere by founder member artist Alison Cross (b. 1952).
Scratch and the Sequence
Following a busy two years online, the Vocal Constructivists resumed live performance in summer 2022 with a sell-out show at Pentameters Theatre, London. The programme revisited groundbreaking works of past decades and premiered several new pieces. Scratch and the Sequence questioned the contents of Linn D’s Nothing in Nothing, explored being Half Rite, listened to Barbara Alden’s Inner Word, chased Ben Zucker’s Wolffs, crumpled Nye Ffarrabas’s paper concerto with eggs, buzzed after Simone Forti, vibrated Daniel J. Wolf’s spectral madrigals, woke up Jin-Hi Kim’s Living Tones II, and it was back to the board with Cornelius Cardew’s Schooltime Compositions and Alvin Lucier’s Opera with Objects.
To celebrate their tenth anniversary, the Vocal Constructivists are hosting a series of events that invite you to listen, learn, share, and perform with us. The festival, through the square window playfully sequences through these activities over two days. With no entrance fees, no mud, and enough space for all who want to pitch their virtual tents (for brief or longer stays), this festival offers opportunities for creativity, participation, reflection, Q&A, and lively engagement with music-making. There are three structured “events” each day: the first involves a choice of seminars, the second features guest speakers, and the third presents Vocal Constructivists in performance. There are additional opportunities for discussion. This festival is offered in memory of Scratch Orchestra pioneer and broadcaster Carole Finer († March 2020).
Further details and schedule here
The Vocal Constructivists’ recording of Pauline Oliveros’ Sound Patterns (a track from our 2014 album Walking Still that now has over 29,150 listens on Spotify) finds a new life in SCALA, a purpose-made sound installation at the Tabakalera International Centre for Contemporary Culture in San Sebastián, Spain. SCALA recontextualizes the Vocal Constructivists’ recording, adapting it for a three-dimensional architectural space. Spanish sound artist Xabier Erkizia used tracks mastered by our producer Antony Pitts to create a sophisticated audio system that spatializes the original recording across eight speakers, placed at various levels in a stairwell. The depth of the space, and its resonant acoustics, allow the stereo image to explore stereophonic verticality as well as horizontality. SCALA will play every 30 minutes for five months (from December 2020 to May 2021). A brief excerpt of the installation can be heard here. Preceded by our sound, the Vocal Constructivists look forward to performing live at Tabakalera in the future. Watch Oier Etxeberria, Head of Contemporary Art at Tabakalera, discuss SCALA and the legacy of Pauline Oliveros here with Vocal Constructivist director Jane Alden here: 2021 towards a new listening. (Scroll all the way down to below the second picture of Pauline for the play button).
The Vocal Constructivists invite all interested singers to join Constructing Infinity, a collaborative series of realizations of Mark Applebaum’s Metaphysics of Notation. Go to https://infinity.vocalconstructivists.com/upload/login.php to register. You will then receive a login and the means of contributing to infinite variety.
On 20 March, 2020, our beloved friend and collaborator Carole Finer passed away. In addition to being a founding member of the Scratch Orchestra, Carole was an extraordinary musician, composer, musicologist, and radio broadcaster. Her radio show Sound Out on Resonance FM explored a wide range of musical genres, from experimental to bluegrass to musical samples that she collected in her travels around the world. We will always be grateful to her for sharing her mentorship, musicianship, and unbridled creativity with us.
- In response to the current restrictions on in-person choral activities, the Vocal Constructivists are launching several new initiatives: a youth participation scheme, multiple fragmentary interpretations of Tom Phillips’ Irma, and a remote performance of a graphic score that will grow incrementally and change infinitely.
- 7 August 2020 marks the launch of a new 7-month project, Building a New Legacy. Join us online for the premiere screening of a new interpretation of our performance of Irma, Tom Phillips’ 1969 opera, discussion of a new computer-assisted realization of open notation, and reflections on the youth project as part of building new audiences for experimental music.
- Join us for the two-day festival that marks the culmination of this project, 6–7 March, 2021.
- The Vocal Constructivists were scheduled to perform Treatise and lead an interactive workshop on the music of Pauline Oliveros at the Donostia-San Sebastián Musical Fortnight in August. While we had to cancel our trip due to Covid-19, we were honored to be included in one of Europe’s most renowned classical music festivals, and we hope to participate in Musical Fortnight in the future.
THE VOCAL CONSTRUCTIVISTS perform text and graphic scores, alongside works that extend ‘traditional’ notation, bringing a sense of play to their interpretations of experimental music. Coming from diverse backgrounds, with ages ranging from 19 to 79, the Vocal Constructivists draw on an eclectic variety of artistic influences—classical, global, avant-garde, and theatrical. In addition to performing original interpretations of experimental classics such as Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise, they have commissioned and premiered 22 works, establishing themselves as an important force in new music-making. Read our full bio here.
“a group of exceptionally gifted singers who are at one with each other” – Choir and Organ
We are deeply saddened by the passing of Pauline Oliveros, a composer and musical visionary who has been close to the Vocal Constructivists’ development and influenced our thinking and musical life in so many ways. Pauline’s compositions and her wisdom have inspired us to work more closely as an ensemble and her personal input has been invaluable. We were honored to work with her as recently as June 2016. In Pauline’s own words:
‘Dying will happen to all of us at some point. Impermanence still rules. However we should think about this question: what is your relationship to peace? Do you want to live in peace or do you want to live in violence? Which would you choose? One of the things we want to do according to my partner and co–Deep Listening teacher Ione is “make peace more exciting than violence.” That is the process we are attempting’.
(American Music, 2007)
We shall be performing some of Pauline’s works in the near future, and hope you will join us to remember her and her extraordinary vision – one which we could all benefit from in these uncertain times.
The Vocal Constructivists.