By Reason of Darkness (2015)
A setting of sections of Job: 37 and Hometown Elegy by G.S. Fraser (1915 – 1980)
A Fantasy for Three Mixed Choirs (SABar) & Tubular Bells
fp. 22 October 2015; Sound Festival Community Choir, Kathleen Cronie, King’s College, Aberdeen, UK
Commissioned by the Sound Festival for the 2015 Festival
By Reason of Darkness is the most ambitious and experimental choral work that I have written to date. When commissioned to write a piece for a massed community choir I wanted to do something very different to much of the choral music I usually write, something that would be very different to what the majority of the community choir may have performed before. The brief for the work was the theme of ‘Southern and Northern Skies’ and this general theme led me very quickly to Job:37, with the famous line ‘Out of the south cometh the whirlwind’. This immediately got me thinking – how could I emphasise this line using the choral forces available to me? I then decided to try and ‘create’ the whirlwind that Job is describing using non-standard vocal techniques and effects. Thus, By Reason of Darkness was conceived.
The work is in three sections, the outer two using excerpts from Job, the inner one using some lines from Hometown Elegy from the Aberdeen-based poet G S Fraser (1915-1980). I wanted the work to be somewhat site specific to Aberdeen (where the first performance will take place) and this led me to Fraser’s work, and also to the inclusion of the sound sample that is prevalent in the second movement. This middle movement is elegiac in tone and I wanted there to be elements of the ‘hometown’ Fraser is alluding to in his poem to be present – the first performance is due to take place outside where natural noises will occur, but I wanted there to be an ambient, almost undecipherable sound to be present as well.
I have subtitled this work a ‘fantasy’ – using the traditional understanding of something free and improvised. It is also a rhapsody and a homage to the locality. It is a representation of a current preoccupation with the notion of place – in this case Aberdeen and the wider county.