prepared soundscapes, ‘granulation’, and montages – the artistry of sound in Halcyon’s ‘From Afar’

This weekend, vocal ensemble Halcyon joins austraLYSIS and sound artist Jon Drummond to present From afar… explorations in time, sound and space.

Soprano Alison Morgan, co-founder and co-artisitic director of Halcyon is joined by mezzo-soprano Jo Burton, cellist Geoffrey Gartner, Jon Drummond and cound artist and director of austraLYSIS, Roger Dean, to perform works by Morton Feldman, Iannis Xenakis and Kaija Saariaho, as well as two world premieres by Jon Drummond and Roger Dean.

Roger Dean is the founder and director of the ensemble austraLYSIS and founding co-editor of the sound intermedia creative arts journal. He is also Research Professor of Sonic Communication, Music, Cognition and Action Group, at the University of Western Sydney. He delivers some helpful insights into the concert repertoire.

“The fixed digital sound in Saariaho’s Lonh, teams amplified soprano with prepared soundscape. The ‘prepared sound’ is mostly derived from some material pre-recorded by two members of Halcyon, performing written motives and described patterns by the composer. A variety of transforms and montages were used in the studio. Some of the motivic elements which were performed in the recordings are still detectable in the transforms, and they are used as the compositional basis of the notated live vocal parts. They also contribute to the gentle groove of a bass-line which appears at times in the work, itself subjected to further compositional transformation in the studio.”

The electro-acoustic nature of the works means that there is a new skill set required in the production team – skills traditionally not  required in the performance of live ‘classical music’. Enter, the Sound Technician. Whilst Drummond and Dean will set up their own works and those by Saariaho and Xenakis, Halcyon will be working with a sound technician to create their unique performance.

Iannis Xenakis’ Orient-Occident (1973) includes a technique he devised called  ‘granulation’. Professor Dean describes ‘granulation’ as a means of sonic transformation in which minute elements of sound, commonly 5-50milliseconds long, are taken from a digital source, and recombined. This allows stretching of sounds, and a huge range of modifications to their timbral and pitch character.  Xenakis was one of the key pioneers of what is now called ‘granular synthesis’, and as the name implies, the granules may themselves be freshly synthesised (meanly newly specified digital elements) rather than taken from recorded material. Ultimately the digital sounds are heard through loudspeakers in their full acoustic analogue aspect.”

Is there an improvised element to the performances? “No” says Dean. “If the work is repeated, there is no change whatsoever to the digital material. However, there could be some modest changes in the live vocal realisations of the score, and in the temporal and expressive relationship between the vocal sound and the fixed digital material.”

More about the concert at:




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