Chameleon Lectra

Chameleon Lectra - Zone 2: PMusic
Chamleon Lectra
'Mobile Dawn In An Old World Garden'
Mobile Dawn - Beatrice Harrison
image: a photographic collage of the HMV recording

'Mobile Dawn In An Old World Garden' is a Parallel Music/sound piece which takes as its raw material a 'found recording' - a 78 rpm record of birdsong made eighty years ago in the garden of renowned musician Beatrice Harrison (one of the famous Harrison sisters). It was at Harrison's suggestion that the first ever live BBC broadcast was made featuring the cellist 'dueting' with a nightingale in her garden in 1924. The poetry of this narrative - and the fact that the record appears to be a field recording of birdsong alone, has inspired a piece in which Beatrice is hopefully present by her absence and also provides a comment on representations of and engagements with the natural world.

To construct the composition, the Harrison recording (HMV B 2469) was digitised and sonic material from the B side: 'Dawn In An Old World Garden' (2-9255) was processed and made into a series of small sound elements or 'Sons'. The new work - 'Mobile Dawn In An Old World Garden' - is woven from the random selection and performance of these Sons.

This work, premiered as part of the 'Anti-Parallel' Egenis show 2007, consists of 208 (4x52) discrete, short sound recordings derived from one side of a 78rpm gramophone record entitled 'Dawn In An Old World Garden' (HMV B2469); these sound recordings (or 'Sons') are then selected and played via the Parallel Music method.

MDIAOWG virtual record sleeve design

Here is an RMusic excerpt of the piece

TACG graphic

The gramophone record that provides the basis for this PMusic composition was made in 1927 in the garden of cellist Beatrice Harrison who three years earlier had made the first live BBC broadcast in the same garden in Oxted, 'duetting' with nightingales. This unfolding narrative fascinated me as I began to research a disc I had bought some 15 years ago (mainly out of curiosity as to its original purpose). Although this particular recording features birdsong alone, I feel that Beatrice is present by her absence in the new composition - it is certainly dedicated to her.

My thinking about this piece was also amplified by conversations with Martin Prothero - whose practice inspired me to make a sound work that is influenced by the notion of animal tracks or traces, and Chris Cook - whose textual exploration of DNA and the concept of antiparallel also informed my construction of 'Mobile Dawn', particularly in terms of its performance.

To make the new work, the entire Harrison recording (HMV B 2469) was digitised to the highest possible quality (at Stanley Productions in London) and sonic material from the B side: 'Dawn In An Old World Garden' (2-9255) was extracted, and in some cases processed, to give four categories of sound (52 Sons in each). Inspired by Chris Cook's written work displayed at the Anti Parallel show, which playfully referred to the four bases of DNA: thymine, adenine, cytosine and guanine, these categories were entitled T A C and G:

• T or 'Trace' category, contains Sons derived purely from the noises made by the 'scratches' of the record - the 'traces' of the medium (example of T Son)

• A or 'Aggregate' category, contains Sons which have been made from the birdsong recording and its attendant 'scratches'  (example of A Son)

• C or 'Carillon' group has birdsong from which I have tried to subtract the background noise of the record — 'scratch'-free versions of the dawn chorus (example of C Son)

• G or 'Garden' Sons have been re-pitched and modified to give sounds suggestive, perhaps, of rain, forests, exotic beasts - other geographies, situations and locations... (example of G Son)

In the sounding of this piece, at any one time a particular performance method and its duration (or 'Net') are chosen by indeterminate means. Some Nets give periods of silence, some take their cue from the antiparallel notion and play simultaneously paired of sounds from either the T and A, or C and G categories. Some play four channels of sounds chosen from the entirely same category, others from all categories.

It is my hope that these sounds blend into and merge with their surroundings, occasionally 'troubling the air' or inadvertently duetting with exterior bird calls, to play games with represented space and time via a recording originated over eighty years ago.

Paul Ramsay 16th March '07

(additional material added 2021)

Cleveland-Peck, Patricia, (1985), 'The Cello and the Nightingale - the Autobiography of Beatrice Harrison', John Murray Ltd.
Nattiez, Jean-Jacques, trans. by Carolyn Abbate, (1990), 'Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music', Princeton University Press
Rothenberg, David, (2005), 'Why Birds Sing - A Journey into the Mystery of Birdsong', Basic Books

The Harrison Sisters
The Nightingale Broadcasts
First outside broadcast of Beatrice Harrison and nightingales 1924
'The cellist who enthralled the nation with her nightingale duet' (BBC Radio 4)
'The Cello and the Nightingale' - A Play by Patricia Cleveland Peck
The Cello and Nightingale Sessions
Birdsong and Music

Why Birds Sing - a review with excerpts from David Rothenberg's book
Nightingale Appeal

Messiaen (see section 'Birdsong and the 1960s' for another approach to the inclusion of birdsong in music)
PMusic: parallel music
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