When I first heard the singing viola, I was captivated by what I experience as an intimacy in the physical proximity of the voice to the body of the instrument. Brought together, these two elements conjure a soundworld that I find both luminous and earthy, at once grounded and aethereal. I was drawn to exploring this rich territory, and it is from here that ‘in peals of aether’ emerged.
When the voice enters, unless it is singing the higher ossia, it is in an earthy low register. Over the course of the work, it rises, reaching a luminous registral peak on ‘aether’ as if it had climbed there from the depths of the Earth. The rising shape of the phrase, ‘in sheathes of raw enwildening’ acts as a microcosm for the overall direction of the voice, as if it is this wild, alive act of nature which the voice wishes to embody.
Meanwhile, the viola material consists of of four main elements:
1. Rising fifths on open strings natural harmonics, which mirror, in more condensed form, the overall rising trajectory of the voice.
2) High notes, mostly harmonics, which are held as if in mid-air or in the aether.
3) Swift, whistling harmonics rippling between airiness and brighter clarity, accompanied by quiet humming in the voice. I intend these to bear a shimmering, aethereal quality, like the aether with which the voice seems to desire to merge.
4) Long, sustained fifths on open strings, which act as drones around mantra-like incantations of the text.
At first, the piece was a meditation on escape, on longing to be swallowed by the moon, to melt into the vastness of aether. But as I wrote the music, the elements I have described seemed to point towdards a groundedness, a taking root, rather than a fleeing from Earth. With this in mind, I changed the text I was setting, bringing out an aliveness in nature which for me, facilitates such a taking root. Ultimately, in uniting radiant and more murky elements in the voice and viola, the piece seeks to question the divide between Earth and aether. I suggest that Earth could be as diaphanous, aethereal and in flux as the eroticism between sky and moon is visceral, grounded and earthy.
This is a recording of an arrangement of the piece I made for Cello performed by the cellist from Chineke! at Composium during the Cheltenham Composer Academy in July 2021.