Seams and Threads
context-based composition on Sacred Harp singing for fixed media (2015/16)
February 12, 2016, Wave field synthesis Hall, Technical University Berlin, Berlin, Germany
To create this piece I recorded each of our weekly singings in Berlin over two months and used primarily the sounds that are not the songs themselves. I focused mainly on two non-musical practices: the sounds of singers calling the songs they want to sing, and the sounds of a pitcher pitching the tune and the group intoning their first notes together. Using these sounds and the same sounds from the Alabama singers at their 1959 convention, I put the two groups in dialogue, side-by-side. When placed in this way, one can compare and contrast the two groups’ characteristics and way of doing things. Southern accents predominate with the Alabama singers, while in Berlin one hears American, British, Irish, Canadian, South African, German, and Israeli accents, as well as two languages (German and English). One can hear the different vocal styles of the two groups in the intoning. The Alabama singers are more efficient with their time, while the Berlin group runs at a more relaxed pace. All these differences are hearable, but within the context of doing the very same things, and this despite being so separated by time and space. The title Seams and Threads addresses these aspects which separate and which bind the two groups. It also addresses the mechanics of the singing; my material is the “gaps” in the singing – the stuff in between the songs, which one just has to get through to enjoy the songs themselves. Yet even these gaps are highly dictated by tradition, and to conduct them in this way is to continue to engage in the Sacred Harp tradition and thus act as a member of the broader Sacred Harp community.