A Celebration of Luciano Berio & Bloomsday.

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Electroacoustic, Electronic, Literature, Music, Sound

 A tribute to Italian Composer Luciano Berio for his pioneering work in Electronic Music.

Today is officially known as Bloomsday and what you are about to read is a tribute to one of the most important Italian Composers of the 21st Century known as ‘Luciano Berio‘. Firstly you are probably wondering what ties Bloomsday and Composer Luciano Berio together?

Bloomsday is a day of celebration which takes place in Dublin and the rest of the world.  It celebrates the life of Irish writer James Joyce and most importantly his novel Ulysses.  It is celebrated on the 16th June which is also the date it is depicted in James Joyce’s landmark novel.  The name Bloomsday derived from the main fictional character of the book known as Leopold Bloom.

James Joyce, Ulysses.

How is this linked with Italian Composer Luciano Berio?

Luciano Berio was an Italian Composer.  He is recognised for his work in experimental music and his pioneering work in Electronic Music.  As a young man he was born into a Musical family and had a keen interest in music.  As a student he learnt Composition in Milan.  Later in life he would return to Milan to open the Studio Di Fonologia which he co-founded with composer Bruno Maderna. This was Italy’s first electronic music studio.  Although the studio closed it’s doors in 1983 the refurbished equipment is now exhibited at the Museum of Musical Instruments in Sforza Castle, Milan.  Watch the video below to view and hear the re-creation of the famous Italian studio, Lovely sounds!

Luciano Berio at the Studio Di Fonologia, Milan.

Luciano Berio at the Studio Di Fonologia, Milan.

In 1950 Berio married Cathy Berberian who was a talented versatile singer with brass courage to covey her artistic unique vocal expression to the world.  During their marriage Cathy Berberian became Luciano’s muse and collaborator as she appeared in many of his works such as Thema (Omaggio a Joyce)CirclesFolk Songs, and Sequenza III.  Luciano Berio and Cathy Berberian divorced in 1964.

Cathy Berberian interpreted many works by advant-garde composers such as John CageIgor Stravinsky and Henri Pousseur.  At one stage she even sang the arrangements of songs by the famous British group ‘the Beatles‘.  Her most famous original piece as a composer was titled Stripsody (Watch below).  In stripsody She uses her vocal technique for comic book sounds and onomatopoeia words like Tic TacMeow and Smack!

    Yes but you have still not answered the connection between Bloomsday
   and Luciano Berio...

Between the years of 1958 – 1959 Luciano Berio composed an electroacoustic composition known as Thema (Omaggio a Joyce). The Composition is based on the poem “Sirens” from chapter 11 of the landmark novel Ulysses by James Joyce.

           That is the link between Luciano Berio, James Joyce and Bloomsday.

The poem “Sirens” was read by his then wife Cathy Berberian because she had a distinctive captivating voice.  Cathy Berberian can be heard speaking the text from Ulysses for the first 1 minute and 56 seconds while the rest of the electroacoustic composition lasts for a further 6 minutes and 13 seconds.  The piece lasts 8 minutes and 9 seconds.  The composition is based on tape and voice and was produced at the Studio Di Fonologia.  Click on the video below to listen to the elaborated electroacoustic part of the composition.

During my final year studying Music Technology and Innovation at De Montfort University i decided to compose my own version of Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) by Luciano Berio.  I picked this composition because i wanted to re-create similar musical techniques demonstrated by Luciano Berio in his original composition.

In this composition Berio used different methods and techniques to create various sounds. They may seem outdated to modern ears but in truth they were outstanding, innovative, evolutionary and personally i feel timeless.  There are no electronic sounds in this composition.  His applied affects consist of distortions, echoes, tape speeding up and slowing down and multi-tracking and layering the voice of Cathy Berberian to form a tinted beauty.  This is a notable Electroacoustic ground-breaking piece of electronic Music.

Pro Tools 7.0.

Today we have technology that Luciano Berio could only envisage.  I decided to blend modern software with old techniques.  I used the software program Pro Tools 7.0 for the mixing and mastering of the composition although i did limit my compositional techniques and tools on the software program because i wanted to replicate what Berio achieved with tape so i could get a feel and understanding for his creative complex piece of work.

To attempt this task i used a Revox B77 reel-to-reel tape recorder in order to create similar effects.  By using the revox B77 reel-to-reel tape recorder i learnt how to edit waveforms, apply reverb, multi-layering and speeding up or slowing down the spoken text of the composition.  These old tape methods were once used by avant-garde composers such as Luciano Berio, Pierre Schaeffer and Edgard Varèse.

Revox B77 - Reel to Reel tape recorder.

Revox B77 – Reel to Reel tape recorder.

The only sound source in this composition is the recording of Cathy Berberian reading the beginning of the eleventh chapter of Ulysses.  I set-out to create a dynamic effect with the spoken text by manipulating it.  I also wanted to create other effects similar to the original Thema. I used a female voice for the spoken text and sneakily added the odd spoken word from the original Thema.

Producing various effects with a Revox B77 reel-to-reel tape recorder requires a lot of patience, skill and precision so during the process you start to understand the effort, accuracy and length of time it took to create such a masterpiece.

Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) blurs the borders of language and sound, poetry and music and speech and noise.  Each element morphing into one another giving the listener a unique bizarre unforgettable listening experience.

I admire Luciano Berio for his innovative experimental thinking towards music composition.  He certainly paved the way for new ideas and techniques in regards to the electronic music genre. He influenced, inspired and challenged composers and musicians to re-think, re-create, evolve and attempt new innovative ideas geared towards music composition.

Editing and splicing tape.

Editing and splicing tape.

Tape splicing...

Tape splicing…

Mixing old and new techniques...

Mixing old and new techniques…

 Ulysses by James Joyce, text from eleventh chapter

known as “Sirens” used in

Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) 

STEELYRINING IMPERthnthn thnthnthn.

Chips, Picking chips off rocky thumbnails chips.
Horrid! And gold Flushed more.

A husky fifenote blew.
Blew. Blue Bloom is on the
Gold pinnacled hair.

A jumping rose on satiny breasts of satin, rose of Castille.
Trilling, trilling: I dolores.

Peep! Who's in the... peep of gold?

Tink cried to bronze in pity.
And a call, pure, long and throbbing.  Longindying call.

Decoy.  Soft word. But look! The bright stars fade.  O Rose! 
Notes chirruping answer.  Castille.
The morn is breaking. 

Jingle Jingle jaunted jingling

Coin rang. Clock clacked.

Avowal. Sonnez. I could. Rebound of garter. Not leave thee. 
Smack. La cloche! Thigh smack. Avowal. Warm. Sweetheart, goodbye!

Jingle.  Bloo. 

Boomed Crashing chords.  When love absorbs.  War! War! The Tympanum.

A Sail! A veil aware upon the waves.

Lost.  Throstle fluted.  All is lost now.

Horn.  Hawhorn.  When first he saw.  Alas!

Full tup.  Full throb.

Warbling.  Ah, lure! Alluring.

Martha! Come! 

Clapclop.  Clipclap.  Clappyclap.

Good god henev erheard in all.

Deaf bald Pat brought pad knife took up.

A moonlight nightfall: Far: Far.

I feel so sad.  P.S. So lonely blooming.


The spiked and winding cold seahorn. Have you thee?
Each and for other plash and silent roar.

Pearls: When she.  Liszt's rhapsodies.  Hissss.
If you want to have a listen to my version of Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) by Luciano Berio click on the play button below.
“If the experience of electronic music is important, and I believe it is, its meaning lies not in the discovery of new sounds but in the possibility it gives the composer of integrating a larger area of sound phenomena into musical thought, thus overcoming a dualistic conception of musical material. Just as language is not words on one side and concepts on the other, but is rather a system of arbitrary symbols through which we give a certain form to our way of being in the world, so music is not made of notes and conventional relations among them, but rather identifies with our way of choosing, shaping and structuring certain aspects of the sound continuum. Verses, prosody and rhymes are no more an assurance of poetry than written notes are an assurance of music. We often find more poetry in prose than in poetry itself and more music in speech and noise than in conventional musical sounds”

Luciano Berio.

Luciano Berio

Luciano Berio died aged 78 in 2003 in a Hospital in Rome.

1925 – 2003.

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