This is a composition for voice, string trio, sax, and keyboard funded by the PRS Foundation which began with a walk. It was based on five days spent walking and camping along the Peddars Way. The structure is based on the geography of The Peddars Way, (a First Century Roman Road that was pushed through the heartland of Iceni territory, probably as a means of military domination, shortly after Boudicca’s failed rebellion of around 60 AD), using both the coordinates and resonances of the churches along the way as compositional material. The Way runs straight across Suffolk and Norfolk, forking off at Stanton Char near Ixworth, from what was probably the main Roman road to Venta Icenorum, towards what might have been a Roman ferry port a bit north of Holme Next the Sea, which is now lost to the North Sea (sorry, there a a lot of qualifiers in that last sentence).
It is notable that it touches on very few villages, instead running arrow-straight through the Norfolk countryside away from everything; which is something noticed most keenly around lunch time each day. It is worth exploring some of these churches with the help of Simon Knott’s excellent website. And below, you can see the set-up I used: my tarp, sleeping bag, soprano sax and a digital recorder. And fig rolls – lots of them (you can see them on the lower left). It was also essential to the project to sample at least two pints of any local beer at the pub nearest my campsite in the evening to get an intimate feel for the surrounding environment.
This is the first of a new series of projects, where I am looking at exploring ways of rooting musical structure in the landscape (the unintentional) in more concrete fashion than just subjective impressions, and combining structures derived from the landscape, recorded sound, to inform instrumental chamber groups and controlled improvisation. I have long been inspired by landscape artists such as Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, and have always wanted to explore ways of engaging musically with the landscape in some way other than just a somewhat subjective ‘impression’ of something; a ” …this is how this makes me feel…” sort-of-thing. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to actually use something concrete (yet abstract), such as the coordinates of each church, as a starting point? These can sometimes generate melodic and rhythmic material that is strangely lyrical, or interestingly spiky. Maybe crunch the numbers of a particular church’s unique sonic profile? This could yield something to use as a start of an improvisation and accompaniment.
So this is a project which also seeks to link communities with contemporary music which has direct correlation to their locality and history. The history of the road also forms the basis of the sung text, which is taken from the Annals of Tacitus (Book XIV, chapter XXXV), containing the only contemporary account of Boudicca’s (Tacitus’s spelling) rebellion. I have set Boudicca’s speech to her tribesman, just before she led them in battle against the Romans (“Boudicca curru filias prae se vehens,...”). Just to say it was highly unlikely that she addressed the tribes in Latin, but the victorious get to write the histories, in this case using it as a stick to attack the contemporary Roman administration of the day, blaming them for causing the uprising.
This is combined with some lyric borrowings from Plainchant (and it was cool getting used to the four line notation), namely the Dies Irae and an Ave Regina Caelorum. After all, she was the queen, but one about to lead her tribal host into what was almost complete annihilation at the hands of the Roman Legions.
This is the first of a new series of projects, where I am looking at exploring ways of rooting musical structure in the landscape (the unintentional) in more concrete fashion than just subjective impressions, and combining structures derived from the landscape and recorded sound to inform instrumental chamber groups and controlled improvisation.
The churches I visited and played in were: Stanton Char (now deconsecrated and roofless), Brettenham, East Wretham, Tottingham (again, deconsecrated and inaccessible on the MOD site, just a quick peep over the fence to the sound of gunfire), Threxton, Haughton St Marys, North Pickenham, Sporle, Castle Acre, Newton,Little Massingham, Fring, and Holme Next to the Sea. I recorded a short pre-composed section within each of the thirteen churches adjacent to the Way; with each based on the coordinates of that particular church. This is enfolded into a piece for a string trio, voice and keyboard. I also returned to some of the churches with ace sound guy John Ward, who determined the resonant frequency of their space, to inform the structure and parts for the performance. This formed the basis of a short ambient-based digital backing for a series of improvisations that are part of the piece. Here’s the resonant profile at Newton All Saints: And here is one of the short excerpts of the piece, using the coordinates of the church at Brettenham, Norfolk. This is the opening section of the overall piece. (by the way, the soundcloud picture is not Brettenham church; the picture of this one just came out better)