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Empty Vessels

Denis Smalley

Programme notes

The empty vessels of the title are some large garden pots from Crete and an olive jar from Turkey. Recordings of the air resonating in these vessels provided the starting-point for the piece. Since the recordings were done in my garden in north London, sounds from the environment (rain, birds, planes flying overhead) were also captured by the microphones inside the pots, and changes in the timbre of these sounds resulted from interaction with the filtering effect of the resonant vessels. These ‘natural’ transformations were extended through computer treatments of the sources, and they also suggested relations with very different types of resonant sounds. The garden palette was expanded with recordings made in the same environment without the benefit of the vessels’ transformations. The piece may be regarded as a journey passing through highly charged and more restful events, textures and spaces inspired by the empty vessels.


Empty Vessels was realized in 1997 and premiered on May 31, 1997 in the Salle Olivier Messiaen of the Maison de Radio France (Paris, France). The piece was commissioned by the French State (Music Office) and the Ina-GRM (Paris).


  • May 31, 1997, Son-Mu 97: Concert, Salle Olivier Messiaen — Maison de Radio France, Paris (France)
  • Composer(s): Denis Smalley
  • Year of composition: 1997
  • Instrumentation: stereo fixed medium
  • Commission: French State (Music Office), Ina-GRM
  • ISWC: T0101136020
  • Publisher(s): Ymx média
  • Duration: 14:51
  • ISRC: CAD500014250