Electric Phoenix debut LP

Electric Phoenix LP front cover
Electric Phoenix LP back cover
Side 1
The Vocal Synthesizer

British vocal+electronics ensemble Electric Phoenix was formed 1978 by soprano Judith Rees, mezzo Meriel Dickinson, tenor Daryl Runswick and bass Terry Edwards. Yet the role of sound engineer John Whiting was so important the quartet is actually best described as a quintet. Whiting “augmented live voices with synthesized and pre-recorded sounds, and introduced the Ambisonics surround-sound system to spread voices and effects around the audience” (New Scientist, UK, Feb. 1986). Singers had to wear headphones during live performances to keep in step with the sound effects and pre-recorded sounds. Close to Quadraphonic, the Ambisonics system is said to be smoother on the ears in the way it evenly spreads sounds across loudspeakers. For the technically minded: according to the same New Scientist article, the Electric Phoenix sound system ca. 1986 included four Tannoy loudspeakers and Quad amplifiers. On their debut LP, Electric Phoenix borrowed some of their repertoire to The Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble of San Diego, California, a vocal quartet launched 1975, phonemes and pre-recorded sounds experts themselves. The Roger Marsh and William Brooks compositions included here were performed live by the Ensemble as early as 1980 – see program notes. US composer Brooks was teaching at San Diego’s University of Southern California between 1973-77. Electric Phoenix is also comparable to British vocal group Singcircles who premiered several Trevor Wishart’s work on disc.

♫ As befits a debut album, this LP showcases Electric Phoenix’s technical skills and vocal range, as well as introducing a number of sonic innovations. Interestingly, it was produced by a member of the group, Terry Edwards. The latter formed various vocal ensembles, including London Voices in 1973, a vocal consort specialized in Luciano Berio’s vocal music, which Electric Phoenix will be interpreting later in the 1980s.  In a way to push things forward with regard to The Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble, Electric Phoenix commissioned Tales and Songs from the Bible of Hell in 1978 to Belgian composer Henri Pousseur (1929-2009), a ground breaking work that was to include live electronic processing performed by the singers themselves. The entire music is derived from John Dowland’s song Flow My Teares that opens the performance, while the libretto comes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Voices are submitted to ring modulation, filtering and reverb effects, monitored by each singer during performance thanks to a “vocal synthesizer” designed by Ian Macintosh (pictured above). Tales and Songs also includes pre-recorded tape parts of vocal electronic treatments and electronic sounds. The piece is a progressive, epic exploration of colloquial speech and vocal acrobatics, with radical electronic processing. Roger Marsh‘s Not a Soul but Ourselves… is a reading of Jame Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabelle’s monologue from Finnegans Wake. A wonderfully fluid composition, it’s a nuanced theater of voices slowly flowing like river Liffey. William BrooksMadrigals is the closest thing to sound poetry on this record, with a festival of plosives and unusual phonemes.

Roger Marsh
01 Not a Soul but Ourselves… (12:54)
William Brooks Madrigals
02 The Silver Swan (2:41)
03 Bad Bottle Blues (2:10)
04 Osannga (4:40)
05 Nellie Was A Lady (4:40)
John Dowland
06 Flow My Teares (3:24)
Henri Pousseur
07 Tales and Songs from the Bible of Hell (28:10)

Total time 58:40
LP released by Wergo, UK, 1982


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Electric Phoenix discography:
1982 Self-titled LP, Wergo UK
1986 Luciano Berio / John Cage / William Billings, LP, EMI Records
1990 Tod Machover: Flora, CD, Bridge Records
1990 Trevor Wishart: Vox, CD, Virgin Classics
1990 Luciano Berio: Formazioni/Folk songs/Sinfonia, CD, Decca
1991 Neely Bruce: The Plague & Other Vocal Works, CD, Mode

Selected live performances:
IRCAM, Paris
McGill University, Montréal, Québec
Biennale de la Villette, Paris
Wadsworth Theater, Los Angeles (with Kronos Quartet)

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6 Responses to “Electric Phoenix debut LP”

  1. 1 O_3 December 25, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Holy shit… I have been looking for this album for 20+ years.

  2. 2 John Potter August 31, 2011 at 11:24 am

    The group was actually founded by singers Karen Jensen, Linda Hirst, John Potter (who dreamt up the name) and Simon Grant (all of whom left Swingle II in order to start the new ensemble). It was managed by Terry Edwards (who’d been the Swingle II manager) with John Whiting as sound man. Sadly, this line-up didn’t make any recordings.

  3. 3 continuo August 31, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Great band name and great repertory.
    Thanks for dropping by.

  4. 4 Rob March 11, 2013 at 5:16 am

    I can’t seem to be able to download any content – just the download manager, which crashes immediately. Any advice?

  5. 5 Martin Walker February 4, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I too have been looking for this for years – but the exe file seems not to work with Linux. What a pity!

  6. 6 John Whiting February 28, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    The entire Electric Phoenix repertoire, together with a detailed history, is about to go public. Meanwhile it is accessible on Daryl Runswick’s website: http://electricphoenix.darylrunswick.net/

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