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Musiques et recherches, Brussels; MIT Press, Cambridge, MA


Recording, musical

Peer reviewed



This work investigates the projection of narrative in acousmatic music through the integration of a minimal amount of spoken text and digitally processed real world sounds. Within that frame a further imperative is evocation of a contemporary social-political theme, namely questioning of present-day international military intervention by Western powers. Two texts are used: a short extract from the introduction to We Will Not Cease, the memoirs of First World War conscientious objector Archibald Baxter and four verses from the Latin Vulgate Lamentations of Jeremiah. The Baxter text relates two dreams he experienced just before the outbreak of WWI. Formally the work aims to offer the dreams as images, the soliloquy of a ‘real’ person, imparting a context against which the musical material functions as an emotive cognate, corroborated by the Biblical text as an ancient consciousness embodying certain of the modern text’s sentiments. Layers of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ representations of experience, conscious and subconscious, are paralleled in the application of digital audio processing, particularly the forming of melodic strands through the precise spectral filtering of bell and vocal sounds. This mining of spectromorphological detail is central to the use of the Latin text, with its consonant attacks and noise spectra central to the articulation and colouration of many of the music’s extensions of timbre and gesture. In accord with the political message, Lamentations has been integrated with Lala Meredith-Vula’s images of post war Kosova in the audiovisual Are You Everybody? In that, the ending has been recomposed to accommodate the essential ‘survival’ narrative of Meredith-Vula’s photographic essay, substituting a tonally ambiguous closure of interlocking spectra for the syntactically open questioning punctuations of the original. Commissioned by the Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges. Premiered by the Birmingham Electroacoustic Sound Theatre, George Cadbury Hall, Birmingham, 16 January, 2010.


Lamentations was awarded Special Mention in the ‘Métamorphoses 2010’ Competition, Brussels; Are You Everybody? was nominated for the Best short film at DokuFest10 International Film festival. Programme note: This work attempts to provoke questioning of present-day international military intervention, particularly by Western powers. The catalyst for this is in two texts—one modern, one ancient—that, it seems, are timeless in content. The first is a short extract from the introduction to We Will Not Cease, the memoirs of First World War conscientious objector Archibald Baxter. In the foreword to his book, Baxter describes two dreams he had just before the outbreak of the First World War—both are surreal and shocking, but leave a great deal to the imagination. The second text used in the work comprises four verses from the Latin Vulgate version of The Lamentations of Jeremiah (1:1, 2:21, 3: 49-51 and 2:19), and these are powerful for their directness of content and expression, but also for the way they evoke an appeal to a higher spiritual awareness or, perhaps, to a wider collective human conscience. The English versions of these are: How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people how is she become as a widow she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary. The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword; thou hast slain them in the day of thine anger; thou hast killed, and not pitied. Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission; Till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven; Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city. Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street. Formally the idea of the work is to present the dreams as images, experienced by a ‘real’ person, which then impart a context against which the musical material can be interpreted—initially ‘outside’ then later ‘inside’ the sound-world. The use of the Biblical text in Latin represents an attempt to impart a kind of very ancient consciousness which in its own way reflects certain of the sentiments of the modern text. The four verses taken from the Lamentations mark out to some extent the structure of the work, intersecting with Baxter’s dreams and a range of quasi-environmental sound imagery. For the ending I envisaged a kind of extended sonic question mark—decisive in its energy, but incomplete for its fragmentary overall morphology. In addition to the recorded texts, a large number of sound sources are used, particularly organ chords, bells, water and wind-derived sound, some recorded in Leicester and some near the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges. The Baxter text is spoken by Kate Szejnmann. The extracts from Jeremiah are recited by James McNamara, and sung by Motje Wolf and members of the Market Harborough Choral Society. Other voices include those of several colleagues, students, and my own children. Thanks are also due to Elizabeth Rudge for assistance in recording the bells of St Denys’s Church, Evington and Motje Wolf for assistance in recording the organ of St Andrew’s Church, Leicester. The work was commissioned by the Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges, and composed in their studios in November, 2009.


Acousmatic music, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Archibald Baxter


Metamorphose 2010, Ohain, Belgium: Musiques et recherches, [CD recording] MR2010. ‘Sound and Video Anthology’, Computer Music Journal, 34:4, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010 [DVD].


Research Institute

Music, Technology and Innovation - Institute for Sonic Creativity (MTI2)