Ensemble Cacophony! is an experimental vocal ensemble specialising in the performance of polyphonic repertoires of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. Our approach is drawn from a desire to be creative with historical repertories in a way that is inspired by some of the more colourful historical descriptions of performance practices, while nevertheless embracing the aesthetic ideals of modern professional music-making. The name Cacophony! serves a dual purpose as title of the group, reflecting both the diversity of current perspectives on historical musical practice, as well as being a comment on said practices themselves.
About our performance practices:
At the heart of our practice lies our relationship with the notation we use. By rehearsing and performing entirely from reproductions of historical prints or manuscripts, ensemble Cacophony! aims to interact with the traces of historical music-making as closely as possible. Both our rehearsal techniques and performance contexts are subsequently inspired by our direct engagement with the historical theoretical concepts necessary for working from this notation, including historical approaches to solmisation.
Our music-making derives its energy from an approach which is inspired, but not dictated by, the skills expected of historical musicians. Our practice therefore draws on historical descriptions of ornamentation, extemporised contrapuntal techniques, as well as a rhetorical approach to phrasing, metre, and dynamic in order to present an intentionally creative performance of historical repertoires.
While discussions around historical pitch standards have, understandably, tended to focus on surviving instruments from the period in question, our understanding is that, in the absence of accompanying instruments, pitch would most likely be set according to the ranges of the voices. As such, although we interact with the notated pitches as they are organised in the early sources from which we work, the pitch at which we set our voices is entirely context dependent.
Our approach to the text we sing is drawn from current research into historical pronunciations. However, due to the diverse musical and linguistic backgrounds of our members, a certain amount of deviation is heard within the group. This we tend to embrace rather than suppress, aiming to create a more personal and vernacular engagement with the text being sung where possible.