Water Music is an album of music made from field recordings of water. The field recordings were made between June and October 2014. The tracks combine stretched and filtered samples from these, along with fragments of the original recordings. They're all drone-based to some extent, though this aspect varies in prominence.
Most of the filtering is based upon overtones of two frequencies: 50Hz, the frequency of the National Grid in the U.K. (an artificial frquency that surrounds us), and 7.83Hz, the resonant frequency of the Earth (a natural frequency that surrounds us). The ways these two pitch sets interact or conflict with each other reflects our ambiguous relationship with our environment: sometimes harmonious, sometimes antagonistic. The sources progress from the domestic/ personal to the public/political. All the places I recorded have personal significance for me. What we rarely consider is that even the private spaces of our lives have wider social and political resonances.
The album is available to download from Bandcamp.
Still Falls the Rain
This track is made from recordings of rainstorms at home in London during June 2014. The title is borrowed from the canticle by Benjamin Britten, which uses as its text part of Edith Sitwell's The Canticle of the Rose. The area where I live in South East London was originally built to house workers at Woolwich Arsenal, a prime target during the war for the air raids that Sitwell evokes in her poem.
This track is made using sounds recorded around the home. The title alludes to Richard Strauss's self-aggrandising tone-poem of nearly the same name. I hope I'm not being self-aggrandising here. There's beauty and comfort to be found in the banal everyday flow of water in a house: bathing, cleaning, tea-making. So many of these domestic activities are assisted by electricity that it's possible to get some very strong harmonies deriving from the 50Hz hum that drives the machines that make our drudgery less onerous. There's a kind of semi-ironic sense of retro-futurism here, a nostalgia for days when technology was seen as a straightforwardly progressive matter rather than a cause for angst.
Fontane di Barbicana
I recorded the fountain at the Barbican Centre in London in June 2014 for a performance project as part of Wikimania 2014 at that venue in August. Over the collage of processed field recordings are overlayed drones and melodies produced with cello and loop pedal. It was first performed on 9 August. The current recording uses the same collage as that performance, but the cello parts have been recorded afresh.
The name "Barbican" derives from a low Latin word for a fortified tower or gate. The title alludes to Respighi's Fontane di Roma as a nod towards our Roman invaders who gave us this name. The Barbican Estate is a striking example of brutalist architecture and the centre of one of London's most important arts venues; it's also a home to rich people that was created over the ruins of the homes of poorer people, and is owned by the City of London Corporation, which some argue is a quasi-medieval fiefdom protecting the interests of the rich and privileged few.
At Greenwich where I made the recordings, the Thames is tidal. recorded on several days in September and October 2014 at high and low tide, down on the "beach" that appears at low tide when it was accessible. Greenwich was an important royal and military location from Tudor times: its long maritime associations and service as a naval base resonate with the idea of the "barbecana" as a defence stronghold. The Thames is also a conduit, whose flow is the pulse that drives the life of the city. It's also a barrier: we ally ourselves to the tribes of North and South of its course.
"Sweet Thames" is a phrase that recurs many times in music and poetry: Edmund Spenser's refrain "Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song" in Prothalamion was quoted by T.S. Elliott in The Wasteland. A variant appears in Peter Maxwell Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King, and Ewan MacColl's song Sweet Thames, Flow Softly.
The Regent Falls
Regent's Park is one of the eight Royal Parks of London. Although these parks are open to the public, the public has no right to enter them: our access is granted by royal favour. This may seem like an archaic state of affairs, but it's one that's coming back in spades: the creeping privatisation of public space that's been happening in recent years is shocking, although entirely in keeping with the way our land, resources, services and livelihoods are being systematically handed over to private interests to exploit for their own gain at our expense. In the week I write this, it's announced that a new bridge over the Thames, to be built with public money, will have no public right of way.
Hidden in Regent's Park is a Japanese garden constructed in the 1930s and named for the consort of George V. It contains a waterfall which was the source of the sounds used in this track.
The recordings used here were made at Folkstone in June 2014, the earliest of the recordings I made for this project. At Folkstone the English Channel is at its narrowest, and on a clear day France can be seen on the horizon. It is typical of our imperial, grasping nation to appropriate this small stretch of water for ourselves as the "English Channel". In the context of a beach in England then, it is a provocative act to use the name given to it by the French. The French, of course, have their own imperial history, intimately intertwined with our own, not least through the connections forged by the Norman Invasion of England in 1066: the last time this island was successfully invaded. I'm not sure we've ever really got over it.
La Manche was broadcast to Galloway Forest Park as part of The Dark. Outside. on 27-28 September 2014.