Lovers of extended vocal technique no doubt would have preferred a full album of that kind of material from this groundbreaking, sometimes eardrum shattering, female singer. Her discography seems as tiny as the parts of the inner ear, however, so customers are going to have to take what they can get. The type of program presented on this early-'70s collection might have also been the same kind of repertoire she would have presented in a live recital, setting out first to prove her credentials with a note-perfect performance of Monteverdi -- she has a good Italian accent, by the way -- and then easing through several Debussy pieces before getting into the weird stuff. That would be the compositions by John Cage and Sylvano Bussotti as well as Berberian's own infamous "Stripsody." It is in these three pieces that this album serves up the filet mignon, although the Debussy songs and a Kurt Weill piece are quite nice. A shame that, once again in an attempt to keep the attention of the lame members of the audience, she has to throw in George Gershwin in the form of a hideous excerpt from Porgy and Bess and even a Beatles number. As far as the latter attempt goes, this type of thing dates quite badly, with comedian Henry Gibson's recitation of "She Loves You" on the Laugh-In program one of the only performances of this sort from this era that stands the test of time. Berberian's Beatles could be played side by side with the Kronos Quartet's run-through of "Spoonful" to see which is more ghastly, if anyone is interested.
Despite the attempt to soften the impact of the avant-garde material, examinations of used copies of this album invariably produce the same results: the only tracks that get any play are the weird stuff and the aforementioned Debussy and Weill. Scratches on some of the other tracks, particularly "Ticket to Ride," have the nasty edge of someone switching cuts in a terrible hurry. Cage provides the singer with a wordless setting as well as text from James Joyce. As usual, this tirelessly inventive composer looks to expand what the singer can do on-stage, so she winds up rapping and tapping on the piano to wonderful effect. "Stripsody" is the one that really ought to be required listening for anyone fascinated by the meeting points of popular and so-called "outside" culture, drawing its raw material from comic strips and their inventive use of made-up sounds to convey action and/or feelings. Realizing the similarity between this standard aspect of the funny papers and the rarefied form of vocalizing she helped pioneer, Berberian came up with something absolutely wonderful. It is interesting that some of the finest vocal compositions in the avant-garde repertoire were created, like this one, by the performers themselves, perhaps something to do with the ultimately personal nature of singing.