Additional Information

First performance:

Embassy Theatre, Central School of Speech and Drama, London.
21st April 2009

Sarah Leonard, soprano
Sculpted Sound feat. Stephen Gibson & Justin Woodward (percussion)
Brian Inglis, conductor


Symphony No 2 for soprano, sound sculptures and electronic sounds was written to a commission in 2008 from Derek Shiel for his ensemble Sculpted Sound. Having written for these unique ‘instruments’ once before in Invocation (2003) which extensively explores their potential to evoke a religious ritual, I wanted to do something exploring their percussive and ‘industrial’ nature as objects ‘found’ from the detritus of industrial processes. This fitted in perfectly with the brief, which required the piece to respond to the ideas of Futurism, in honour of the 100th anniversary of Fillippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto (published in Le Figaro, 20th February 1909).

The main Futurist music manifesto is not by a composer but by an artist: Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noises (1913). Russolo, anticipating John Cage, calls for all sounds to be accepted into musical discourse and categorises them thus:

1. Roars, Thunder, Explosions, Hissing roars, Bangs, Booms
2. Whistling, Hissing, Puffing
3. Whispers, Murmurs, Mumbling, Muttering, Gurgling
4. Screeching, Creaking, Rustling, Humming, Crackling, Rubbing
5. Noises obtained by beating on metals, woods, skins, stones, pottery, etc.
6. Voices of animals and people: Shouts, Screams, Shrieks, Wails, Hoots, Howls, Rattles, Sobs

To put his theories into practice he designed and created an ensemble of Intonarumori or noise generators. I have related each of these ‘instruments’ to one or more of the Shiel sound sculptures (see Table 1), using different means to evoke the same sonic/expressive ends. The first, introductory part of my piece (section [A]) is actually a realisation of the fragment of graphic score which survives for Russolo’s noise composition, Awakening of the City (1914).

In order to update the Futurist aesthetic I included electronic interludes – in the manner of Varèse’s Deserts – realised by Dr François Evans of Middlesex University (see separate note). These act as both interludes and, in the broadest sense, ‘development’ of the ideas explored in the acoustic music. In particular, the first interlude offers an alternative ‘stretched out’ realisation of Russolo’s composition fragment, and both interludes use sounds from a building site which are also evoked by the metal sculptures (particularly in section [B]).

The final element is the soprano voice. At first – as part of the ‘development’ section – the voice is heard offstage (amplified), singing only vowel sounds and with an ‘instrumental’ timbre, as if it were another instrument or even an electronic sound source. The offstage soloist is joined by the voices of the percussion players (Russolo’s category [6]); after the second electronic interlude , the solo singer is revealed onstage, brightly lit, in a cadenza based on the word ‘sound’ – the first word of the concrete poem (also by Derek Shiel) which is the text of the final, vocal section.

Recorded excerpts from the score may be heard here [score pages 14 to 17]:


for soprano, sound scupltures and electronic sounds
Chamber + Voice(s)
View Score
Total Number of Instruments:


Other instrumentation


Symphony No 2

Last edited by: SaM Editor