Sir Thomas Armstrong, a former principal of the Royal Academy of Music and a veteran of the First World War, once stated that there is a falsity about the reporting of all battle scenes. In the face of the most shatteringly etched images of war in works such as Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et decorum est what hope might we then have of truly identifying with the experience of those subjected to battle? The stories you will hear in Red Sky are extracted from oral history recordings held by the UK's Imperial War Museums. With Sir Thomas’s sentiment in mind, the idea behind the work is not so much to use sound (especially electroacoustic sound) to paint a graphic picture of the First World War, but to create an experience bringing us closer to empathy with the sentiments of these very articulate and reflective veterans of war—seeking a kind of mosaic of collective memory. I have drawn together reflections around a broad range of themes, expressed in ways that do not attempt to justify the war’s means or glorify the outcome, but to gather stories conveying images, events and feelings that have remained with these men and women … some perhaps told many times, some perhaps drawn out of deep memory in the moment. That these were recorded late in the lives of the subjects is important. Distillation in time gives a quality of concentration and gravitas to their reflections—in some cases they are poetic and in some cynical, with a burning, ardently outspoken frankness, but all very real. This quality of directness must be taken particularly seriously in the elderly: when these oral histories were taken, time was running out for them and the vividness of their memory gives us an urgent message—still—to listen. Their evocation of the past remains with us as very something immediate, very human … disturbing and uplifting in equal measure. (Note by the composer)
Red Sky is scored for alto flute (Kingma system), Clarinet in B-flat/bass clarinet), piano and 14 channel digital audio files (48 kHz/24 bit). A MAX patch for triggering the sound files in performance is available. Permission to include oral history recordings of First World War survivors was kindly granted by the Imperial War Museum, London. The work was created to mark the close of the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery’s ‘Leicester at War 1914-15’ exhibition. The work is in 31 movements of varying lengths, making a total duration of 63 minutes: i 'Prologue' ii Refrain: 'Get Through' iii 'Red Moon': The portentous sight of a red moon before the first day of the Somme offensive iv 'Death and Burial': The awful routine behind the lines v 'Eight Girls': Collateral damage of another kind vi 'Trenches': The risk of just being there, the faceless stealth of the sniper, and the symbolic freedom of the lark vii Refrain: 'Wave After Wave' viii 'Gas': A vision of the aftermath of an early gas attack at Ypres ix Refrain: 'Red Moon' x 'Fire': From the aerial vision of a barrage to Haig’s ‘special order of the day’ amidst a landscape of fire xi Refrain: 'Made Them See' xii 'White': A spectral image, scorched in memory xiii Refrain: 'Get Through' xiv 'Bayonet': Memories of training in the use of that most intimate of weapons xv Refrain: 'No Pretence' xvi 'Desertion': The execution of deserters—one of war’s many crimes against humanity xvii Refrain: 'No Pretence' xviii 'People Stories': When worlds of soldier and civilian collide xix Refrain: 'Wave After Wave' xx 'Get Through': A recurrent question, embodying the fragility of life that only the soldier knows xxi 'hat Just Left the Aussie and Me': ... on being the last ones left xxii 'Over the Top': Flashes of memory from the front line xxiii Refrain: 'Made Them See' xxiv 'Shock': True empathy for the tormented xxv Refrain: 'Red Moon' xxvi 'Lost': A face that came and went ... a name found on a memorial xxvii 'Bullets': A flashback to the front line xxviii 'Surviving': The tenuousness of life and the strength of the will to live xxix 'The Piano': Holding on to life he knew xxx 'Last Moments': The most poignant reflection—bravery on the battlefield, and the courage to confront the experience and to speak out xxxi 'Epilogue'
Citation : Young, J. (2015) Red Sky (2014-15) 63’ For alto flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, piano, 14 channel electroacoustic sound. Premiered New Walk Museum, Leicester, 12 April, 2015.
Research Group : Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre
Research Institute : Music, Technology and Innovation - Institute for Sonic Creativity (MTI2)
Peer Reviewed : No
- School of Arts