Variations on a Voice

Saunders / Miller / Dunn / Fraser / Baskind

In this programme, Juliet Fraser performs three compositions written for her, revealing the uniqueness of her voice and representing quite different approaches to the voice in general and in combination. “Variations on a voice” is a programme developed, devised and dedicated to Juliet Fraser’s voice.

Juliet Fraser

Juliet Fraser

© Dimitri Djuric

“Tracery : Hardanger” by composer Cassandra Miller and soprano Juliet Fraser explores a form of “automatic singing”. At the beginning, Fraser sits on stage and puts headphones in, through which she hears a “guide track” – and then she meditates. A different track, a tape part made of her pre-recorded voice, is played into the space. How the piece will sound is not predictable. It is a music of coming and going, of being together and being alone. It is a modern take on folklore as the material is primarily inspired by non-notated traditions: Two Hardanger fiddle tunes form the starting point for the first modules. This work was created in close collaboration between the composer and performer, Cassandra Miller and Juliet Fraser. It is part of a long-term project that has produced several discrete but related pieces that set out to experiment with a performer’s freedom and vulnerability on stage, rejecting traditional ideas of performativity and “singerly-ness”.

Another work presented that night is the composition “While we are both” by Lawrence Dunn, based on a poem by Caitlín Doherty. The work is a sort of metamorphosis of sound textures and is “concerned with the limits of communicating with and knowing others and also the possibilities – and impossibilities – of commitment to other persons”. The title refers to the line “while we are both awake” as the protagonists are longing for sleep.

“’The Mouth’ is the threshold between two worlds, the interior and exterior. There is the inner voice which each of us carries within – an internal monologue, our voice-over, an incessant narrative, suppressed and hidden beneath the surface. And then there is the voice we send into the world – momentary articulations, an eloquent discourse or a stumbling incoherent murmur. This sounding voice is vulnerable, of utmost fragility – a part of us exposed and projected out of us and into the abyss. And there is the chasm between inside and outside: a dichotomy between the inner and outer voice, between our secret internal monologue and the voice sent into the world and that is heard. And the mouth is at this threshold, embodying a kind of purgatory.
This piece asks: what is this inner voice, what is there suppressed, held within, flowing beneath the surface? And what can actually then be said, if anything at all? The text is my own – streams of recitacions, with occassional moments of clarity. The work explores the extensive range of colours and sounds naturally produced within the mouth cavity. The electronic part is made entirely from live recordings of Juliet Fraser ́s recorded voice, and a little of my own.

Written with my grateful thanks to Juliet Fraser and Alexis Baskind for this wonderful collaboration.” – Rebecca Saunders


Cassandra Miller (*1976) & Juliet Fraser (*1980)
Tracery : Hardanger (2017)

Lawrence Dunn (*1991)
While we are both (2017)

Rebecca Saunders (*1967)
The Mouth
for soprano and tape (2018–2020)
Commissioned by Annie Clair; electronics produced at IRCAM-Centre Pompidou
German premiere


Juliet Fraser soprano
Alexis Baskind IRCAM electronics