An Angel at Mons




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Premiered eBuzz Festival, Salle Claude-Champagne, University of Montréal, 25 April 2014.


Recording, musical

Peer reviewed



John Ewings was among the few people who claimed to have witnessed the vision of an angel on the battlefield at Mons in August 1914. In 1980, aged 101, he gave a compelling account of his experience in an interview for the BBC.

In An Angel at Mons I have created a frame for his story, attempting to capture the sensation of a memory awakening into and receding from consciousness, and a sense of awe at the moment the angel appears. If we risk feeling that John Ewings gives us something of a cosy story, it is in his imagery that we find a profound amalgam of the supernatural and the human. This was an angel, a divine figure he is sure, with a flaming sword but, we are told, ‘he was a man.' I felt an echo of this in a passage from Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, where the central figure of the novel (who is German) finds himself in a shell hole with a French soldier and experiences—eye-to-eye—the terror of being confonted by another human being whom he is compelled to attack with his knife, shocked that his own presence should inspire equal terror in another. From the most intimate proximity he is then subjected to the Frenchman’s slow, lingering death and, while searching through his papers, finds his name and other personal details. As Remarque’s character finds himself face-to-face not with the enemy, but with a man—a printer by trade, in fact—John Ewings remembered the vision of an angel as another man.

In John Ewings’s testimony the Germans were not attacked, they were frightened away. One of them spoke in English, at that moment the Tower of Babel’s division of the human race erased and the battle paused, with an impending moment of self-sacrifice in the face of the enemy averted. Ewings was about to kill himself when the Germans ‘cleared off’ as he put it. It is this image of divine intervention in wartime as a pacifying force in human form that I think is the remarkable symbol to emerge from his account.



Acousmatic music, sound transformation, Angel at Mons, First World War, oral history, multichannel audio


Young, J. (2014) An Angel at Mons, 15.1 channel acousmatic composition, dur 11'56"


Research Institute

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