Architexture II : St Mary’s Reconstructed

Reconstructing St Mary's Abbey Thumbnail

Architexture II is a new vocal composition specially designed to make the most of the acoustics of a ruined building which doesn’t exist today. It’s 20 minutes long, and is a huge monolithic, choral sound-sculpture of industrial proportions.

Created by detailed part-writing, the singers constantly weave in and out of each other as the piece surges and flows in flurries of activity. It’s always moving, but I also wanted like to give a sense of being frozen in a moment, which is extended forever. I’ve always liked those moments in the movies where time suddenly stands still, yet meanwhile, you see all the internal details of the events flow past you in a kind of cool slow motion. Architexture II is little like that: expect a kind of ultra-minimal contemporary music (not in a 1960s way), yet one that delivers it’s message through huge, large-scale textures.

Taking inspiration from medieval music (in particular, the sounds of first practice, early polyphony), I’ve adapted historical composition techniques to become modern tools for sculpting a large-scale vocal composition. Polyphony, for many renaissance composers, was all about creating a beautiful sound world from intricate overlapping of parts. That’s all very well to help make some wonderful textures, but how can we achieve clarity too? I wanted to know! So, I’ve spent a lot of time moving tiny phrases and musical lines around so that absolutely everyone’s contribution is clear, despite the vast acoustic (and I mean vast – it’s 11 seconds long at some frequencies) the piece will be performed in.

We’re using a kind of acoustic augmented reality. St Mary’s Abbey was one of the largest buildings in York by the year 1266. It was knocked down in 1530. The idea is to overlay the acoustic of what St Mary’s would have sounded like onto the actual space which exists today.

Click ‘continue reading’┬áto read more about the project and listen to the rehearsals.

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