Roger Marsh Composer

Vocem electric voice theatre

The vocal ensemble Vocem was initiated in 1977 by Alan Belk shortly after he began his studies at the Guildhall School of Music in London.  He had seen a televised performance by Swingle II of Berio’s A-Ronne for 8 amplified voices on the programme Aquarius (London Weekend Television) in about 1975, and immediately determined that he would some day perform the piece.  The joint music degree between Guildhall and City University provided a willing pool of student singers for him to realise his ambition, and Vocem was born.  The original ensemble comprised: Susan Bickley, Alan Belk, Matthew Scott……

Vocem’s  performance of the piece was so good that when the composer himself was visiting London he attended a performance at City University and was greatly impressed.


Luciano Berio on stage with Vocem at City University after their performance of A-Ronne, and review of a performance during the ‘New Macnaughton Concerts’ Music Theatre Festival, at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London Feb 5th 1983

Following this performance, Alan tracked down the score for the original 5 voice version of the piece, which had been made for Dutch Radio and written for five radio actors. In Berio’s mind the new 8 voice version for Swingle II, had superseded the original version which had existed only on tape, and was never intended for live performance.  Vocem, however, created a stunning dramatic realisation of the original score, in which the singers moved continuously to form different groups for each of the clearly marked scenes of the piece. Clever choreography managed to avoid the tangling of the five microphone leads as they negotiated the scene shifts with hand-held microphones. This realisation of the piece was a landmark moment of great importance.  The piece has since been performed many times in various theatrical realisations, though perhaps never as brilliantly as by Vocem. Berio subsequently invited the group to Florence to perform the piece there.

The group further established itself with performances of pieces by Alan Belk himself (Tsunami, Bass Drum, Where the murmurs die….), and of Not a soul but ourselves…. (Marsh), which they staged more fully than had ever been intended.  Again later groups have taken up the idea of a staged version of the piece, even though it is less explicitly theatrical than A-Ronne.


From the publicity brochure for the 1984 Nettlefold Festival, London, which included the premiere of Samson. Bizarrely the publicity pic is of the cast of Andante Cantabile, taken at the Bloomsbury Theatre the year before.

Some additional programmes (click to enlarge):


1980                              1983