ether voices

In the past few weeks I’ve become a bit preoccupied with using recordings of air traffic control transmissions.  I think that there’s something strangely melancholic about these distorted instructions floating about in the ether.  This has been put to great use in movies – particularly sci fi movies.  I always found the final scene of Alien 3 where Ripley’s transmission (recorded two movies back) plays to an empty room, quietly devastating.  In a similar sci-fi vein, here’s a little experiment that combines ambient electronica and ether voices with some NASA footage remixed from Sammy Fontanez’s own found footage remix:

The Witching Hour: Images in the Suicide Forest

Aokigahara, Sea of Trees
looks up to the sun glinting off Mount Fujiyama
but beneath the canopy
are only the fallen.

– extract from Aokigahara by Robin Moyer

This project is becoming a bit of an obsession.  Now that I’ve completed the music, I’m starting to visualise it as a dance piece with video backdrop.  Each piece in the Witching Hour offers a response to Aokigahara’s mythos and mystery: “Ushimitsidoki” opens with bell-like tolling, announcing the beginning of the Witching Hour; “Jukai, 2am” begins the work proper, setting a calm and reflective atmosphere; “Signs” takes things in a darker direction with its distorted, ghost-like voices; “Forest Floor” is a pensive, slowly-evolving piece, situated somewhere between light and dark; “The Fire Below the Roots” uses the moss-covered volcanic rock floor as a metaphor for buried memories; “a farewell note, written in pencil” explores the impermanence of life and the artefacts we leave behind; “Resolve” is concerned with the acceptance of death and is, ironically perhaps, tonally unresolved throughout; “Yūrei” is the darkest of all the pieces in The Witching Hour and announces the arrival of the spirits said to inhabit the forest; finally, “Coexistence” concludes with a narrator reflecting on the human spirit.

I’ve now created videos for each of the tracks.  In many cases, I’ve used archival footage, including recent animation, as well as some of my own video.  The results can be found below:








The Witching Hour (contd.)

I recently finished composing the music for a new project, The Witching Hour.  As the title suggests, this is an hour-long series of ambient “responses” to Aokigahara (also known as Jukai – the Sea of Trees), the world’s most popular suicide site, second to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Each “response” can be heard below:

I have lots of ideas for where things might go next – including the possibility of setting it to dance.

Watch this space…

Shostakovich Undressed – Performance

Last Thursday’s Shostakovich Undressed event was really quite a spectacle.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone could combine Shostakovich’s turbulent chamber symphony in C minor with spoken word, electroacoustic responses and burlesque dancers…yet, somehow it worked.  I don’t believe that such a thing has been attempted before, certainly not in Aberdeen.  Of course, it wasn’t to everyone’s taste – I overheard one audience member remarking, “I’m not sure that it’s Shostakovich Undressed, but rather Shostakovich tortured!”  You can’t win everyone over, I suppose.

I overheard that last comment following the performance of my own work, the video and sound of which can be found here:

During rehearsals, composer Clive Grace took the following pictures.  The video projection of my own work is visible in the background:

 
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The Witching Hour

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with one of my students and, I’m not sure how, but the subject of Japan’s so-called “Suicide Forest” came up.  I can’t remember what the exact context of the conversation was that led us to this, but it was one of those casual chats that sometimes finds a way of sticking in the brain like a fish-hook.  Somewhere, at some point, I’d read about this place, or in some way had become aware of it, because what my student was telling me was vividly familiar to me.  In hindsight, it’s probably no great shock that this  conversation had triggered a memory – Aokigahara (also known as Jukai – the Sea of Trees) is second only to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge as the world’s most popular suicide site.

A bit of online digging revealed a wealth of largely sensationalist explorations into this place and its tragic history.  So far, the only documentation that I’ve found which manages to retain any sense of dignity and respect is this one:

It is said that one of the key characteristics of Jukai is the sense of solitude or isolation which is evoked both by the dense trees blocking all external sounds and by the absence of wildlife.  Despite being an area which is widely-documented, particularly online, it still appears to be a place which allows for great privacy.

To further add to Jukai’s dark mystique, the forest has a long association with Japanese mythology, and particularly with the yūrei who, it is said, often appear there during Japan’s “witching hour” (ushimitsudoki), 2-3am.  The yūrei – or at least a variation of the concept – have appeared in modern culture, particularly in Japanese horror movies such as Ringu (Ring) or Ju-on (The Grudge).  Traditionally, their appearance is of long, straight black hair and they wear white burial robes.  It is thought that they are spirits, angry at having died in a violent manner, e.g. murder or suicide.

Yurei

All of this has inspired me to compose a piece – or rather, series of pieces – based around Jukai and the so-called witching hour.  The work will be an hour-long series of ambient ‘responses’ exploring moments of calm, solitude, distress, tension, horror, self-reflection and resolution.

It’s important to say that, despite a great yearning, I have yet to visit Jukai.  At the moment, all I have to go on is my own life experience and research.  These pieces are personal ‘responses’ to (my present understanding of) a place and a phenomenon.

Here is the first response:

More to follow soon.

Out with the Old

Tonight I was clearing out the hard drive and stumbled across  a few tracks that I’d recorded a few years ago.  I have little memory of composing or recording these, so it’s a bit of a strange experience listening to them now.

Here are a couple of solo piano pieces from the Glass/Satie years:

…and here are a couple of acoustic pieces where I felt brave enough to sing: