Soundings

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Poet: Steve Willey
Composer: Edward Nesbit

Soprano: Leigh Rhianon Coggins
Soprano: Randi Røssaak
Clarinet: Naomi Pitts
Clarinet: Anne Morris
Viola: Drew Balch
Viola: Martin Wray
Conductor: Edward Nesbitt

Listen to Soundings

In Soundings, we continued (from the previous year’s project Portmanteaux) the idea of two separate pieces happening simultaneously, but, after a brief period at the opening of the song where they alternate, they are heard simultaneously. The programme note states:

Soundings is a translation of the poem Joke (1.) a poem which is part of a longer sequence entitled Mercurial Articulations, a sequence which is itself part of a long poem entitled Opera. Joke (1.) is concerned with the mapping of physical and social space onto the audible voice and the subsequent translation of those audible voices and tones onto the page.

Soundings concentrates on the poem’s visual turbulences and gives them new voice. The performers are initially divided into two groups, or ‘voices’, each of which performs music very distinct from the other. This division corresponds to the visual antagonism between the wedge shape at the bottom left of the poem and the three prongs of text moving into (or out of) it. After a time the viola at the far left of the stage plays a glissando, which is immediately taken up by the adjacent clarinet and proceeds to pass across the whole ensemble, functioning like a lens (similar to the visual function of the poem’s two circular textual formations) which momentarily distorts the music. As the piece goes on, this happens increasingly frequently and quickly, and gradually begins to redistribute the different musical materials between the performers, and the rigorous duality of the opening is transformed into one unified texture which nevertheless holds within it the contradictions with which the piece began.

The main thing which I have taken forward into my subsequent practice as a composer as a result of the Voiceworks project is a far more flexible approach to word-setting than I had achieved previously. Before embarking on the projects I had felt under an obligation to express each word individually to some extent, which inhibited the freedom with which I could manipulate musical materials. Due to the abstract nature of Steve’s poetry, it was impossible for me to take this approach, so, while there is a close correspondence between the overall structure of the poetry and the music, the individual words are treated largely as syllables, without regard for their individual meanings. Since then I have adopted this approach setting more conventional texts, such as in Doubles (2009) for male vocal quartet, a setting of Titus Lucretius and Walt Whitman, which explores the fundamental dichotomy between the two texts rather than the nuances of their individual meanings.


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Venus and Other Noises, including Soundings by Edward Nesbit. Download it here.

Randi Røssaak on Soundings


The piece I was involved with had a totally different approach to lyrics than I was used to. We were not supposed to give the words value or find their meaning. The importance lay within working as an ensemble, making the piece come together with being very musically precise. Seeing how acurate it was necessary to be as helped me later when I have worked on other conteporary pieces.

I am involved in Creative Voices in Guildhall this year, which is a class where the Guilhall composers writes pieces for singers and pianists. And it has been a very interesting and enjoyable continuation from being involved in the Voicework project last year

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2008/2009

Poets + Composers = Songs
William Rowe
Sean Bonney
Marianne Burton
Nancy Jones
Holly Pester
Steve Willey
  Francisco Coll Garcia
Jane Hebberd
Alastair Putt
Marcus Barcham-Stevens
Joshua Kaye
Edward Nesbit
  Shadow Song
Awled
A Matter Of Darkness
Camera Obscura
Presidents and Birds and Even
Soundings