a short segment of the beginning winter solstice section. And below is a link to a download of the entire piece:

https://kevinflanagan1.bandcamp.com/track/from-light-to-dark-from-dark-to-light

This is a new project with my partner Jane Perryman, based around the yearly solar cycle as experienced from our rural cottage in Suffolk.

We began working on this project together on the summer solstice, discussing the methods and data as it unfolded.  As Jane collected photos and material on a fortnightly basis, and based the shape of her ceramics on the changing angles of the sun, I would also be present recording environmental sounds at each session, getting up at civil twilight (for instance, 3:45 am at the summer solstice) to record the birdsong and other environmental sounds in the immediate area.  Both of our elements have adopted the same structure and material: 26 segments of time using material from the immediate locale, which, in case of the soundscape, the palindromic structure reflects the changing conditions of daylight by both lengthening/shortening the duration of each segment to match (from 45 seconds to 90 seconds and back), and varying the dynamics, density of events to match the varying position of the civil twilight sunrise and noon azimuth over the period, along with reflecting this in the spatial mix of the sound, with the various environmental elements in the places in the timeline when they were collected.  The question explored here is whether the use of the Unintentional, or use of structures and elements taken from things that stand outside of human intervention, make for a justifiable art object?

 The sun’s electromagnetic drone which runs throughout the piece is used with the kind permission of Professor Alexander Kosonichev of the Stanford Observatory. This sound was also run through a Fournier analysis to derive the harmonics present and give a pitch series to use in the composition as simple melodic material, which was confined to five notes. The authorial hand is only evident here, as these pitches were used for brief bursts of simple melodic improvisation, So this is a collage, not a mosaic, which would imply similar elements existing on the same plane, as this is a collection of disparate elements as and when they occur in our surroundings.  This is a piece of musique concrete, as it primarily uses raw material gathered from the world around us and modified.  

  After the fortnightly series of pots were completed and fired, their struck tones (the idea coming from the way a potter taps a pot to check for flaws) were recorded and assigned a place in the structure, along with the birdsong, wind, and rain that I had collected at that respective week.  The sounds of the pots themselves are the only things altered, although not to any great extent; only slowed slightly (4x) to allow the natural harmonics, that would otherwise be much too brief, to reveal themselves.

Here’s what my friend Tom Hall wrote about it in an article:

Elective Affinities: Kevin Flanagan’s Soundtrack to Accompany From Light to Dark From Dark to Light.

Composer-performer Kevin Flanagan has made a sonic work as part of ceramic artist Jane Perryman’s collaborative project From Light to Dark From Dark to Light. The sonic accompanies the ceramic as one person might accompany another on an outing: there are shared interests and interplay, but also a sense of separate artistic identities. To borrow a phrase notably used by Goethe, we notice ‘elective affinities’ between the two works, but differences too that extend beyond the affordances of the media, tools to fashion and modes of perceptions employed to experience them (sight, touch, sound, heat, hands, eyes, ears, microphones, musical instruments, coffee, clay, noise, clay, wind, text, etc.). Reflecting as it does practices rooted in the 20th Century avant-garde more recently familiar from cinematic sound design, we might describe Flanagan’s work as a ‘soundtrack’.

The research and process underpinning the creation of Perryman’s project has been well-documented elsewhere. Experiencing the work is to notice aspects of gradually changing visual and textural form, regularity, organic irregularity, repetition and process. These notions form a good starting point for experiencing Flanagans’ 30 minute soundtrack, heard on an endless gallery loop. This presentation complements the soundtrack’s form, which encapsulates the spiral and palindromic nature of musical pitch and a telescoped, Viconian cyclical year. The 26 divisions within Perryman’s work are also reflected in the sectional temporal form of Flanagan’s soundtrack. (The two accompanied one another into the landscape each fortnight as described elsewhere, he with microphone and digital recorder.) The sonic perceptual divisions are marked by a prominent bass note in the piano, with the duration of each section (between 45 and 90 seconds) and other aspects of the soundtrack being determined by the ever-changing ratio between the duration of night and day.

The other sonic components that make up the soundtrack are readily apparent to the ear. We notice interplay between the simple piano musical ‘gestures’ and semi-improvised soprano saxophone responses. Speaking in January 2021, Flanagan described an interest in how closely these ‘are touching upon each other’ – we may compare this with the placement between Perryman’s ceramic artefacts in the gallery space. The minimalistic cluster of five repeatedly reordered notes we hear are derived from analysis of the low rumbling drone we sense underpinning the soundtrack, a ‘sonification’ by Professor Alexander G. Kosovichev of data recordings of solar oscillations.

Within the soundtrack we also hear the lightly struck, gong-like sounds of each of Perryman’s 26 ceramics in sequence and may notice connections to the sounding notes of the piano and sax. Finally, we hear overlapping ambient ‘field recordings’ made during observational sessions as described above. Listening, we notice the rich sonic textures the microphone happened to capture which mirror the lines and traces of natural materials which texture the surfaces of Perryman’s ceramics. Blending with the other sonic elements, we notice textures of wind, rain, aircraft, and birdsong, and are occasionally surprised by the sounds of vocalising Tawny owls, or the happenstance of encountering the human-made sounds of aircraft within the sonic environment.

Tom Hall
January 2021,
Surrey, UK
ludions.com

Or, here we go Agon.

Trying to stay in touch with the Peddars way piece on a daily basis, I’ve been mildly angsting with large, scribbled A3 diagrams as to how all the various elements will organize themselves: everything is related, and, (ahem) it isn’t.

Thinking about it as I composed out various sections based on particular churches, it seemed what I had was a suite a of parts, some quite disjunct, and getting more so as I looked for ways to add improvisatory sections for the sax based on the church resonances I had been gathering with John Ward. And there’s also the possibility of getting the rest of the ensemble in on the fun, in a semi-aleatoric-kind-of-way.

perhaps not the most breathtaking of panoramas, but one I’ve been staring at all week…

A couple of models occured to me; the first was Stravinsky’s Agon, because it combines two radically different compositionsal approaches literally bolted together as a dance suite over a two year period when he went through a major and traumatic stylistic shift, adapting his previous way of working to incorporate his personal take on the serialist school he felt he was being superceded by. Even Boulez (after dimissing Stravinsky as a reactionary for years), one of the most total of the total serialists, admitted Agon had opened a new sound, and declared it one of the seminal pieces of the mid-twentieth century.

What interests me about it is that there was a major break between starting and finishing it, maybe precipitated by a late-mid-life crisis of relevancy. The older parts of the suite are still in his neo-classical style, while others explore his personal take on serialism. And they are shuffled up and combined so there’s no telling what you get next. But, amazingly, there’s no sense of which is which; and the listener would be hard pressed to point out such an incredible shift in aesthetic and method between sections. So there is hope.

The second was the open and luminous settings of folk songs by Berio; eleven songs from different cultures, each one different. They each give a nod towards the style in which they arose, like the acerbic Gaelic fiddle and harp accompianiment in the first piece, Black is the Color…. Although it doesn’t quite have the same stylistic cohesiveness as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, it also manages to set each song in a unique texture; like Schoenberg, using differing elements of a small ensemble in constantly changing colors. And the fiddle part oddly echoes the violin solo in the first Pas-de Trois of Agon.

So they both sit on my piano/desk.

 Up on a hill, overlooking the Nar valley to the north, in the next-to-non-existent hamlet of Houghton St Mary, there is a small, now-restored-once-abandoned church in what is now a lost village equidistant to the Pickenhams (both north and south) . It was a good mile-ish hoof up a hill in the heat. With the pack. And no more water until I got to the pub three miles on.

So the story goes, that when its roof had collapsed in the 19th century and the water got in, the Old Testament inspired alterations of the Reformation, like scales from one’s eyes, gradually went with it. The lime render used (which has a lot to answer for as far as British church architecture goes) to conceal the idolatrous Papist images, once wet from the intrusive weather, had fallen away to reveal medieval wall paintings with Gabriel and his trumpet calling fort the faithful on the last Day of Judgement. The later hammer blows in the plaster to give the render purchase give the effect of an unfortunate bullet marked wall in a recently fallen dictatorship, which, I suppose, it was. The hammer blows of fate? The souls surrounding Gabriel are in Rapture… if only all gigs were like that.

Naturally, any sax player could to relate to what should perhaps be our patron saint; well, although not strictly speaking a saint. Gabriel has his own feast day, though. St Cecilia is fine, but she doesn’t have a horn to hand at crucial moments. Instead, she sang non-stop to prevent her marriage to Valerian being consummated; perhaps not an ideal life partner/soul mate for a lonely guy, and it might also say something about her singing. And then she was martyred. Perhaps a small comfort for Valerian was that he also martyred as well. Maybe. And that it all took place under the everyone’s favorite Stoic, Marcus Aurelius.

Gabriel on the east wall of he chancel

You can’t quite see them, but you would have heard them; there was a huge swarm of bees around the west door at the base of the tower. You had to calmly amble in. I tried recording them, but chickened out.

So… a month or so after I completed the walk, John Ward and I showed up with all his gear in the tiny but intensely evocative early 11th century pre-conquest Saxon church at Newton, just outside Castle Acre. This was on a cold, windy, rainy day in November as the sun was going down. The place feels ancient, with its small barrel-ceiling nave, Saxon stonework, a wonky central tower with dead-end stairwells that ascend to a long-lost gallery above the departed rood screen, and an even smaller chancel and modest altar, which you can just about touch both walls of. The floor and skirting are dripping with moss and damp, and nowhere does the building contain a right angle. You can see the moss in between the bricks in the photo; no kidding.

This is one of the few churches actually on the Peddars Way; however, the village must have shrunk considerably some time ago, now merely being accompanied by a large farm, a roadside pub, and a few houses; and now cut off from even most of them by the busy main coast road. Presumably the rest of the congregation had shifted allegiance to nearby Castle Acre when superseded by the Normans with the grander Church of St James, the Norman Motte and Bailey (there to show who was in charge), and the sprawling late 11th century Cluniac monastery about two miles up the road. Another statement of domination by a fresh wave of conquerors, leaving this small Saxon church & hamlet thoroughly cowed.

Newton All Saints. Measuring the resonant profile with John Ward

It was dark in the church; and difficult to get any usable photos with my vaguely crap aged tablet. While John set up his gear (a mike, a speaker and a laptop), I walked around the space, giving random claps, listening to the echoes and slapback. As the rain beat down, John gave several frequency sweeps in differing locations, the most interesting being under the central tower. The sweeps are kinda spooky, as you stand there listening for something to happen for the first 5-10 seconds before a low rumble appears, and then wonder what else is happening after it disappears, standing quietly until it quietly bleeps to inform you it’s finished. This, you realize, (of course) just brings home the amount of your very own hearing loss. There is stuff happening in the silent sections, but now it’s just music for dogs (here’s one of my particular faves:). So here’s the sweep result:

We got this profile from the center of the church; unlike most of the returns, which are on the haphazard side; usually containing what look like a number of harmonic spectra from several random bass notes; this is interesting as it shakes out to a slightly flat (10-12 cents) E G C; with an additional top octave C is sharp by about 20 cents; an inverted C major triad: a concord, of sorts.

Confession: I was disappointed; I have trouble with simple consonances with my composer hat on. This should not be the case.