Empty Vessels

Denis Smalley

Empty Vessels has been performed in Arc-et-Senans, Birmingham, Brussels, Cagliari, Cologne, Galliate, London, Manchester, Montréal, Morelia, Paris and Valdivia…

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)


Empty Vessels (1997), 14:51
stereo fixed medium



Date Work Program
June 10, 2007 Denis Smalley, Empty Vessels (1997), 14:51 Martian Gardens / WMUA 91.1 FM (USA)
March 21, 2011 Denis Smalley, Empty Vessels (1997), 14:51 Acoustic Frontiers / CKCU 93.1 FM (Canada)
January 3, 2012 Denis Smalley, Empty Vessels (1997), 14:51 Électromania / France Musique (France)
July 24, 2016 Denis Smalley, Empty Vessels (1997), 14:51 RTQE / WORT 89.9 FM (USA)
March 25, 2017 Denis Smalley, Empty Vessels (1997), 14:51 Hear and Now: Cut and Splice 2017 / BBC Radio 3 (UK)
October 7, 2019 Denis Smalley, Empty Vessels (1997), 14:51 Acoustic Frontiers / CKCU 93.1 FM (Canada)