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notes on Egenis Sound Art Piece - HMV B2469 - Nightingales - Beatrice Harrison
PMusic: Notes on 'Mobile Dawn In An Old World Garden'
This work, exhibited as part of the 'Anti-Parallel' Egenis show 2007, consists of 208 (4x52) discrete 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. The new PMusic composition, entitled 'Mobile Dawn In An Old World Garden', is dedicated to Beatrice Harrison.

Above is a video of the original HMV record 'Dawn In An Old World Garden' being played
(please note that this is not my copy)
- many thanks to Dave (78Man at


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.

A scan of the label of HMV B2469
To make the new work, the 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). Following on from the inspiration of Chris Cook's written work, which playfully refers to the four bases of DNA: thymine, adenine, cytosine and guanine, these categories were entitled T A C and G:

The T or 'Trace'* category contains Sons derived purely from the noises made by the 'scratches' of the record - the 'traces' of the medium  (example)
  The A or 'Aggregate' category contains Sons which have been made from the birdsong recording and its attendant 'scratches'  (example)  
  The 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)  
The 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)
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.

* see Nattiez 1990 below for more on the notion of 'the trace'      

Paul Ramsay 16th March '07

Mobile Dawn - Beatrice Harrison
Click the above image to hear an online version of my composition
'Mobile Dawn In An Old World Garden'

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)

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PMusic: parallel music notes on 'Mobile Dawn'