what's new
educational work



excerpt from Ezz-thetics - a column by Stuart Broomer 2020

Sylvia Hallett

Sylvia Hallett is a significant figure in English improvised music, a multi-instrumentalist of tremendous originality. Playing with groups as diverse as British Summer Time Ends and London Improvisers Orchestra, her discography spans more that thirty years, and includes performances, for starters, on violin, hurdy-gurdy, sarangi, Hardanger fiddle (the one with resonating strings), and bowed bicycle wheels.

On the album Tree Time, Hallett presents music literally drawn from the earth then echoed, transformed, and realized in circuitry. Hallett's description of her inspiration and process defies paraphrase:

Tree Time is a reflection on the derelict Tottenham garden, now a forest, next door to me, full of sycamores, holly, walnut, horse chestnut, hazel, elder, jasmine, and ivy where the birds nest and the bees go for nectar, and the squirrels chase and chatter along their aerial runways. Underground in the root system a family of foxes dig out their tunnels and palaces.

During this time of pandemic lockdown, I have been fortunate to have time to listen to the wind soughing in the trees, and get drawn into a different time dimension: the trees speak slowly and ponderously, over centuries, rooting down to the memories that are stored in their fibrous trunks. There is a huge canopy of Russian Vine at one end, and every year it advances further into my garden until I deal with it.

I used some of this vine along with other small branches: beech, ash, and sycamore, to make sound, using a violin bow to bring out their resonant qualities. They behave like something between a string and a tongue of wood, then in real time I processed the sounds using simple guitar pedals - delay, pitch-shift, and looper. The tracks are all improvised and edited, but no overdubbing.

The combinatory use of those guitar pedals is transformative, with Hallett creating a phantom orchestra that magnifies and transforms her sounds into voices and organs, machines and echoes. Song of Boughs is full of dense, sustained sounds, sometimes moving like glaciers, sometimes suggestive of subterranean echoes, foghorns or distant voices poised between the industrial turbine and the human cry; multiple sounds form strange concordances and distant harmonies, eventually becoming slowly wandering siren glissandi. The Trees Have No Tongues is quieter, a wandering, quavering line accompanied by human voices or their stand-ins, while Thicket History suggests a duet between a cathedral organ and a construction site. The concluding I Sing of Bees is the longest of these, pressing home the point that these works have compound effects: they are at once mysterious and tranquil, active and still, strange eyes-shut journeys that only become more dream-like upon repeated listening, music that feels like a mobius strip, a single continuous plane, bending in space and carrying us with it.

If you seek visual solace from the press of the quotidian while you're listening, you might want to peruse a couple of books by Beth Moon, who has travelled the world seeking trees a thousand years old or more.Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time presents the trees in black and white in daylight; Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees presents them in color under nighttime skies, far from electric light saturation and with extraordinary washes of stars, though you might want to preserve those stars for the next recording.

Sylvia Hallett TREE TIME review in The Wire August 2020

Sylvia Hallett Tree Time Bandcamp DL

When it comes to local undergrowth, composer and (conventional and otherwise) instrumentalist Sylvia Hallett goes deep. Tree Time, a five track instrumental of what's there in front of our ears but unheard through reasons of frequencies and contexts, unveils the sonorous secrets of a world so close and yet barely imagined. The album, in all its gentleness, is created and composed out of found sounds on Hallett's home turf. These sounds come from an abandoned garden next door to her North London home. Left to its own devices, this urban land patch is rewilding itself - or other species, flora and fauna are rewilding it - and the garden is turning into its own forest. In her notes to the album, Hallett details some of the things living there - walnut, holly, ivy, birds, bees, squirrels, a fox family digging out its den. Hallett instrumentalises some of these materials as sound producers in their own right. Revisiting a site-specific project from five years ago in Italy, she strokes grapevines with a violin bow as well as rubs the vines along various woods; sounds collected are then looped, delayed or pitch-shifted via a series of guitar pedals. The listening effect is of being transported to an altered time. The low glissandi of "Song Of Boughs" conjure aural hallucinations of hooters and far-off freight trains; "Plane Chant" (with all the puns contained in its title) has a throbby rhythmical squeak, a purr, while "The Trees Have No Tongues" is shot through with soughing wind and creaky gate. Tree Time is both an album of lockdown - Hallett's reflections are stimulated by the necessity to source inspiration from the near at hand - and more significantly one of deep time. This last aspect is expressed by her composerly manipulation of sounds as she explores new temporalities, but, equally, the action of the nature itself. It is, perhaps, a gentle repurposing of the Situationist slogan: not so much a "sous les pavés, la plage!" but rather a "sous le jardin, la nature".

Louise Gray

Canzone di Vini 04/07/15

published Wednesday 9 September 2015


Livio Felluga, founder of the distinguished winery that bears his name, turned a hundred and one years old a few days ago. A year ago, for his centenary, four of his children made him a special gift: the Vigne Museum - an open-air museum, conceived by Yona Friedman and Jean-Baptiste Decavele, branching among the vineyards. This year, Felluga's birthday was preceded by a very impressive evening with a concert by Sylvia Hallett at Rosazzo. It's a village of just over three thousand souls on the eastern hills of Friuli. Rosazzo has not only churches, shrines, castles and abbeys, but also the Vigne Museum itself.

The project of the Museum Vigne can be characterized as a container without walls, the result of thinking and studies on sustainability and on the abolition of frontiers. The Museum expands conceptually beyond boundaries of space and time, becoming an intimate property, harmonious and hybrid, able to be activated and at the same time to activate everything housed inside it. And this is just what happened with the melodies of the English musician, Sylvia Hallett. Her Wine Songs resembles the installation that welcomed her: a tribute to 100 years of Livio Felluga. It's also the result of years of her work in this territory, looking for the subtle sonorities emanating from the vines; including both the harmonious sounds of nature and the shrill, underground sounds from the cellar.

The result is a melange of multi-ethnic flavours, compiled by Hallett into a single music track, on which the whole of the evening's performance was based. So, improvisations of violin and violin bows on bicycle wheels - characteristic elements of her work and her research - alternated with similar bowed assaults on the vine branches themselves, and on the structure built by Friedman and Decavele. She created a visionary, alchemical evening, spontaneously mingling nature and artifice. The music bound together those past times, and then imagined new futures. Futures characterized by a harmony achieved in spite of linguistic diversity and a continuous crossing of frontiers. Where roots don't simply extend downwards, but become a mobile element that can grow in height and breadth. A harmony that can adapt and embrace every circumstance - it's the same lesson taught by the sustainable poetics of the creators of this Museum of the Everyday, and by the spontaneous and hybrid approach of this composer. An evening of an archaic and moonlit flavour, which concluded with the involvement of some audience members: on the one hand they slid their fingers sinuously along the rims of glasses, creating tactile sounds; while on the other, they propelled their own breath into the depths of the wine bottles. Thus they animated the imperceptible - and the sediments.

Eva Comuzzi

Livio Felluga, fondatore dell'apprezzata casa vinicola che porta il suo nome, ha compiuto da pochi giorni 101 anni. Un anno fa, per il centenario, i quattro figli gli avevano fatto un regalo speciale: il Vigne Museum, museo all'aperto, concepito da Yona Friedman e Jean-Baptiste Decavèle, che si ramifica fra i vigneti dell'azienda. Quest'anno, il genetliaco è stato anticipato da una serata di grande suggestione con il concerto di Sylvia Hallett a Rosazzo. Paesino di poco più di tremila anime sui colli orientali friulani, popolato non solo da chiese, santuari, castelli e abbazie, ma anche, appunto, dal Vigne Museum. Il progetto del Vigne Museum, caratterizzato da un contenitore senza pareti, frutto di pensieri e studi sulla sostenibilità e sull'annullamento delle frontiere, si espande concettualmente oltre i confini spazio-temporali, divenendo struttura accogliente, armonica e ibrida, in grado di essere attivata e al contempo attivare tutto ciò che al suo interno viene ospitato, cosi come è avvenuto per le melodie della musicista inglese. Wine Songs è, proprio come l'installazione che l'ha accolta, omaggio ai 100 anni di Livio Felluga, nonchè frutto di un lungo lavoro sul territorio, alla ricerca delle impercettibili sonorità emanate dalle vigne; fra quelle armoniche della natura e quelle stridule e underground della cantina. Il risultato e un melange dal sapore multietnico, riarrangiato dalla Hallett in un'unica traccia musicale, sulla quale si e svolta l'intera performance della serata. Cosi, improvvisazioni di violino e archi di violino su ruote di bicicletta - elementi caratteristici del suo fare e della sua ricerca - , si sono alternati ai percorsi degli stessi sui tralci delle viti e sulla struttura di Friedman e Decavèle, dando vita ad una serata visionaria ed alchemica che ha saputo amalgamare in modo spontaneo natura ed artificio, oltre che collegare tempi passati con quelli presenti, per poi immaginare nuovi futuri. Futuri caratterizzati da un'armonia raggiunta nonostante la diversita linguistica e lo sconfinamento continuo, dove le radici non si espandono più solamente in profondità, ma divengono elemento mobile che si sviluppa in altezza e larghezza. Che si sa adattare e sa accogliere tutte le circostanze, cosi come insegnano sia la poetica ecosostenibile degli artisti ideatori di questo Museo del Quotidiano, che quella spontanea e ibrida della compositrice. Una serata dal sapore arcaico e lunare, conclusasi con il coinvolgimento del pubblico, che da un lato - facendo scorrere sinuosamente le dita sui bordi dei bicchieri -, ha creato suoni tattili, mentre dall'altro, spingendo il proprio soffio fino agli abissi delle bottiglie di vino, ha animato l'impercettibile e il sedimentato.
Eva Comuzzi



The Many Moods of Bread and Shed

(The Orchestra Pit

This collaboration between experimental vocalist Anna Homler and
experimental violinist Sylvia Hallett had me already salivating on paper. A first listen of
The Many Moods of Bread and Shed has fulfilled all my expectations, to the point where I'll say that this is Homler's best record since her exquisite Corne de vache.
Of course, these two great great artists are highly compatible to start with, as they share a similar interest in hijacked objects, small instruments, and delicate improvisation. And Hallett clearly had no trouble stepping into Homler's childlike, naive universe. Homler sings imaginary songs in an imaginary language throughout, and Hallett even gives her bowed bicycle wheel a spin (it had been a while, I believe). Ten improvised songs for grownup alien kids lost
on Earth. I love it.

Cette collaboration entre la vocaliste expérimentale Anna Homler et la violoniste expérimentale Sylvia Hallett me faisait déjà saliver sur papier. L'écoute de The Many Moods of Bread and Shed a comblé toutes mes attentes. Au point où je dirais que ce disque est le meilleur opus de Homler depuis l'exquis Corne de vache. Il faut dire que les univers sonores de ces deux grandes dames sont forts compatibles: elles ont un intérêt similaire pour les objets détournés, les petits instruments, l'improvisation délicate. Et force est de constater que Hallett a su embarquer au fond dans le monde enfantin et neuf de Homler, qui chante de merveilleux petits riens tout au long du disque. Hallett ressort même sa roue de vélo musicale pour l'occasion. Dix chansons improvisées pour grands enfants extraterrestres perdus sur Terre. J'adore.

François Couture



The Many Moods Of Bread And Shed

By Massimo Ricci on June 7, 2012

The Orchestra Pit

"Bread And Shed" is the sobriquet of the
Homler & Hallett duo, this CD being their first recording
together in spite of a transoceanic friendship lasting since 1992
(Anna hails from Los Angeles, Sylvia from Tottenham, London). The
work may be titled "The Many Moods", yet the unequivocal only
mood that it transfers to this listener is one of pureness. The
joyous disclosure of polymeric instrumental patchworks projected by
the artists is not distant from the kind of sinlessness that any
healthy person can detect when observing toddlers vocalizing in
trance-like fashion as they're intent in destroying some of their
playthings or just staring at a fixed point, genuinely meditating as
no Zen master will ever be able to in a whole lifetime. Not a wonder,
then, that one of the finest tracks herein was generated by a
fabulous juxtaposition of sounds coming from squeaking rubber animals
and chanting frogs. A delight.

On the other hand, the foundation for the bulk of
these surrealistic fantasies is constituted by ductile looping
structures enriching the music with scents of "mesmeric security".
Picture a charming garden of which we can clearly see the surrounding
walls, full of beautiful flowers amidst the ivy. Now, envisage the
feeling of relief as you think to the potential dangers that are
avoided by remaining inside. The timbres are a multitude, all
splendidly evocative; the palette includes everything between
"unadulterated acoustic" and "semi-radical electronic".
Homler's voice depicts simple melodies reminiscent of ancient
Eastern cultures, yet - as long as I can hear - the languages she
uses are more or less fabricated, which increases the level of elfish
befuddlement. We imagine a Meredith Monk doll clone performing in a
small town's square with a Chinese folk ensemble. Even where the
pairing of glissando and massive stratification evokes rainbows in
dark skies, the results appear accessible and heartwarming.

Several years were necessary to reach this balance
of ingredients. And in this slam-bang world ejecting mediocrity by
the minute, a record like this equals the pleasure of warming your
lap with a purring cat set to pierce your soul through an inimitable
pupil-into-pupil connection.

Anna Homler & Sylvia Hallett
The Many Moods Of Bread And Shed
The Orchestra Pit

It would be tempting and easy to portray the music on "The Many Moods of Bread And Shed" as a rich, alien interplay of two outstanding and innovative artists. It is certainly that and much more. It is somewhat like the invented language of
vocalist Anna Homler in the sense that it contains vast amounts of emotional conveyance but at the same time stripped of cold, intellectual understanding.

Long time British improviser, Sylvia Hallett sets the stage with an assortment of backing tracks, each different and distinctive. Violin,loops, marimba, saw, bowed
bicycle wheel, and much more create a varied and colorful pallette over which Homler intones her magical voice and adds some miscellaneous instruments as well.

Not just a thrown together "lets see what happens" kind of collaboration but a substantial and complete artistic announcement, this is a carefully balanced and
nuanced exposition of possibilities from two of the world's foremost improvising artists. Much of this is delicate with little toe tapping beats but cast with implied rhythm and movement. This is a playful and ceremonial outing and it sounds inspired, or perhaps I should say, it inspires me.

I have been a fan of both artists for many years and could barely believe it when I heard they had an album together. I feel like I just got very lucky.

Anna's vocal melodies and incantations run a very long gamut and because
there is no word identification the emotional power is infused in the
delivery and sound of her voice.
It never gets scary like Diamanda Galas but is closer in spirit to some of the expressive power of Julie Tippetts, or Phil Minton, to me. Sadness, joy,
longing...of course but much more in the implications of her subtle styling.

Am I "over the moon" about this collaboration album? No, I am way past the lunar pull and now traveling back inside of myself to rarely visited,and unknown areas opened by this portal that I have just walked through.

Don Campau,

"No Pigeonholes Radio", 30 April 2012



The Orchestra Pit

by Julian Cowley . The Wire 2010

Two of my favourites in the invaluable Emanem catalogue are Sylvia Hallett's White Fog and Sleep It Off by Mike Adcock and Clive Bell. Both were recorded around 2000, but now Adcock and Hallett have teamed up for Reduced, further proof that improvisers can still sidestep well-trodden formulas and create unique music that makes its own rules and is complete in itself. It's music about intimicy rather than self-advertisement;cultivation of a wondering ear for sounds rather than display of technical flash. As well as violin, Hallett uses saw, bicycle wheel, lentils, FX pedals and her voice; Adcock supplements accordion with guitar, autoharp, marble chute and percussion. Reduced has warmth and charm; rare qualities for music that's so unpredictable and set apart from any orthodoxy.

White Fog review, amg

Francois Couture
Visitez / Visit the All-Music Guide at www.allmusic.com

Hallett, Sylvia
White Fog
2001 07 01

Even though White Fog is Sylvia Hallett's third solo CD, for the British free improv label Emanem this is a first: in almost thirty years of existence, it had never released an album including lyrics, nor extended sound art techniques. All that to say White Fog is a beautiful album but it may have difficulties finding its public. The CD contains three works. First is "Wheelsongs," a gripping cycle of improvised songs (with written lyrics), accompanied by bowed bicycle wheel. You read right: these captivating plaintive sounds that form a rich shroud emanate from wheel spokes. Digital delay boxes are used to create soundscapes -- their manipulation is not seamless, but the crude use of the technology enhances the fragility of Hallett's voice, often bringing to mind Anna Homler."Violet" and "White Fog" are two highlights. "The Onyx Rook" is a ritualistic-like improvisation on violin and voice, a very fine example of the woman's performing abilities. The set closes with "Snail and Curlew," a sound collage piece. Made of water, bird and vocal sounds for the most part, it also includes electroacoustic sounds, synthesized sounds and even
fragments of tunes. Gradually moving from one dreamy state of conscience to another, the piece offers an interesting aural journey, but fails to strike the imagination as strongly as the opening cycle. For "Wheelsongs" alone this CD is worth hearing, especially for fans of Homler or other delicate feminine voices of the avant-garde.

Francois Couture

1.Wheelsongs: A Wheelwright Used to Live Here~11:53~Hallett, Sylvia
2.Wheelsongs: Violet~4:56~Hallett, Sylvia
3.Wheelsongs: Woman with Dustpan and Brush~7:25~Hallett, Sylvia
4.Wheelsongs: White Fog~4:34~Hallett, Sylvia
5.Wheelsongs: Private War~5:02~Hallett, Sylvia
6.Wheelsongs: Walnut~2:09~Hallett, Sylvia
7.The Onyx Rook~12:46~Hallett, Sylvia
8.Snail and Curlew~15:07~Hallett, Sylvia

Hallett, Sylvia/bowed bicycle wheel/home-built
Minamizaki, Tomoko/photo
Hallett, Maxwell/artwork
Davidson, Martin/design/mastering

White fog review, Rubberneck

Sylvia Hallett, White Fog (Emanem 4057 CD). Sylvia Hallet has been involved with the LMC since the mid-70s, and has more recently become involved with creating soundtracks for theatre, dance, puppet companies, and even BBC Radio. Primarily a violinist, Sylvia is not afraid to take her bow to other objects, and also, unlike many improvisors, has not been afraid to introduce electronics into her work. This CD is a fine example of her approach. Half of it is made up of tracks that use a bowed bicycle wheel as their basis. The sound is eerie and rather reminiscent of old Radiophonic Workshop recordings or maybe Nurse With Wound. Sylvia is stimulated by the Cageian unpredictability of her chosen instrument: "...you can never be quite sure which harmonic will sound; it will often skip to the one above or below the one you are trying to play!" Although this is similar in some ways to the work of Kaffe Matthews (who uses violin and electronics), Hallett's work is more mournful than bombastic, and often the electronic aspects are restricted to a cavernous reverb. Subterranean echoes counjure up a murky, frozen world, vibrating with ugly undercurrents. For a visual context, imagine the water-logged, grey landscapes of Andrei Tarkovsky's movie, Stalker. Like the Hétu release, this disc has its poetry, but sadly it sits on top of the sound, rather than becoming part of it. The vocals on one track work for me though. 'Private War' has a lilting, doomladen, almost folksy feel, which is very similar to that of bands of the 'Apocalypse Folk' genre: Sol Invictus, Current 93, et al. The other tracks on the album include a violin and voice improv, and an excellent tape collage which uses natural sounds to build a pleasingly fatalistic texture. Sadly this is marred slightly by the introduction of a rather bland electronic melody which undercuts the simple sadness of the birds, water and wind.

Jim Barker

Ambiances Magnetiques: www.actuellecd.com
Emanem: www.emanemdisc.com
Percaso: www.elephantchateau.ch/percaso
Text copyright Rubberneck 2002

Live gig review Sylvia Hallett


The Adelphi
2O Nov 2003

A small-ish crowd gathered upstairs in the Adelphi to witness the first night of events for the 20th Termite Festival. It began as it meant to go on, quietly. Quite literally the quiet before the storm of tomorrow night, German table-top improv guitarist Annette Krebs was the first on the bill to perform. The diminutive musician sat herself behind her table of equipment including a contact-mic'ed acoustic guitar, dictaphone and radio. Once positioned and ready, Krebs surged into an understated beginning, looking all the part like a conductor. She rubbed scouring pads over the guitar strings and manipulated these sounds via her two foot pedals. Further in she utilised a violin bow on her guitar and slowly built up a fragile framework of similar sounds, all the while incorporating static and white noise from the radio. Equal parts silence and noise, the highlight of her set was the finale of a small hand-held fan, its blades tickling the guitar strings on the machinehead, triggering insectile chatterings to escape from the speakers. The occasional burst of underground bhangra from some local radio station merely added to this wonderfully idiosyncratic performance.

A personal highlight of this festival was Sylvia Hallett, who was next up. Stood at the back of the stage, Sylvia began by bowing her infamous amplified bicycle wheel, processing and looping the results via the rack of FX gear to her left. I was somewhat surprised at the mournful, emotive sounds a bowed wheel can produce. Over this bed of sound, she sang beautiful wordless vocals which she also delayed and processed. Other implements for sound she used were a saw and the more traditional violin. Full merit is due to Sylvia for the way she handled the rather rude interruption of some bright-spark bursting into the room to ask whether the owner of an L-reg Cavalier could rescue their vehicle from imminent towing. She instigated a round of applause for the man, before giving us a further 10 or so minutes of solemn beauty.

Clive Bell and Mike Adcock were a breath of fresh improv air. They performed an acoustic set played on a wondrous array of bizarre and intriguing instruments. Mike Adcock began by playing his amazing prepared guitar. He appeared to wind it up and it seemed to have music / toy box parts inside that rang out an occasional broken clockwork lullaby every time he played a melody on the actual strings. Bell continued to impress as he pulled out ever larger and weirder wind instruments from his box of delights, from simple recorder-esque single reed flutes, to multi-horned pipes... emitting all nature of haunting, wonderful tones and sounds. Back on stage Adcock swapped between a squeeze box and glockenspiel. This was something of a completion of a cycle as Bell told of how he had been one of the artists who played on that very first Termite Fest. To round off the night, all four artists returned to the stage to begin a 10 minute collective improvisation. It was a joy to watch these three acts from disparate musical genres gel so well together. All had a masterful ear for interaction and knew when to hold off or chip in. The mix of acoustic and electric as well as analogue and digital sounds was excellent. A wonderful start to the festival.

Jamie Stephenson

Live Gig Clive Bell and Sylvia Hallett

online review of Freedon of the City Fest at Dan Warburton's Paris Transatlantic magazine at:

here's the bit about us........

The final act of the afternoon session was Clive Bell and Sylvia Hallett. Using violin, amplified bicycle wheel and saw (all three played with a violin bow), Hallett set up shifting looped samples of her own playing, over which Bell played a succession of woodwind instruments taken from various musical cultures. It was refreshing to see the resources of non-Western music explored with none of the pietism or commodified assimilation to Western popular music endemic to so-called World Music. The unique juxtaposition of Bell's alternately piercing and floating woodwind sounds and Hallett's metallic rotations was striking, and their encore, one of only two during the entire festival, was richly deserved.

and his concluding para......

Overall, I enjoyed the festival. The atmosphere was casual, unpretentious and friendly, and the music often displayed some excellent improvisational skills. My reservations concern the advancing age and perhaps staleness of the musical paradigms in which the featured groups tended to embody their improvisations. Newer currents of improvisation do exist in London, being regularly presented in the basement of Mark Wastell's Sound323 shop and elsewhere in the city, but have never been strongly represented at Freedom of the City. This is no doubt a reflection of the tastes and preferences of the organizers, who are of course under no obligation to put on performers who do not appeal to them. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the main festival dedicated to free improvisation in London is largely given over to the music that established the city's reputation as a centre for free improvisation in the late 1960s and early 1970s and not the cutting-edge developments that will keep the music alive as a radical force in the twenty-first century.

Live Gig Clive Bell and Sylvia Hallett

online review of Freedon of the City Fest at Dan Warburton's Paris Transatlantic magazine at:

The Orchestra Pit CD OP9