||'Of the Brilliant and the Dark' is a composition by Ellen Southern made in response to an invitation by artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White (of the Open Music Archive) to create a creative commons licensed manuscript remixing the original 1969 score ‘The Brilliant and the Dark’ for a project at The Women's Library, London, in the summer of 2010. This relatively obscure Women’s Institute-commissioned opera by Malcolm Williamson, with libretto by Ursula Vaughan Williams, was rediscovered by Simpson and White in the Women’s Library archives. Southern’s resulting ‘remix score’ is a collection of musical elements (chord progressions, melodic motifs, scales etc) inspired by the original. [...]
“In parallel to working on the remix score, I created a 20 minute performance in the form of a song-cycle, to be debuted site-specifically at the library. Using my ‘remix elements’ as the basis, I wove an emotive arc, or collective ‘life cycle’ to form a continuous vocal work. Combining both traditional and experimental compositional techniques, one song transforms into another through ‘transitions’, in which a musical motif is heard differently each time. My aim to exploring the original material in the context of a small-scale intimate ensemble, was a deliberate contrast to the huge scale of the original opera, which featured full orchestra and 1000 female singers assembled nationwide from voluntary WI choirs. [...] Female choir Gaggle were also invited to remix the original, and the two distinctive new projects were first showcased for Simpson and White’s live event as part of the Women’s Library’s Out Of The Archives.
[...] The main themes in the cycle are transformative experiences-in-common, such as youth, grief, defiance, self-assertion and finding inner peace. These are points of connection; they also feature as the core themes in various archetypal characters’ sung testimonies in the original opera. So the themes echo through different lifetimes, and resonate anew each time. While writing the work I imagined the singers as the ‘embroiderers’; the small choir who sat at the side of the stage in the original opera, sewing a ‘bayeux tapestry’ of women’s history through song. It was this small group that I wanted to give ‘centre stage’. It’s a poignant metaphor for me, since women as ‘makers’ in the arts are, and have historically been, under-represented and marginalised.”
-Ellen Southern (full text can be found on her website here)
Southern asked a number of artists to remix her own remix, musically/sonically and/or visually, the work from which was presented at The Others, London, in October 2012.
Notes on my own remix -
Southern and I have collaborated a number of times over the years since studying together in the mid-90s. I approached the task of developing work from the song cycle by listening both thoughtfully (foreground music) and thoughtlessly (background music), allowing time for the music and words to seep into the current time period, my own everyday. See how it mingles; blending or curdling up against other things I'm looking at and listening to. Ideas and associations occur. Starting points. Then begin. Further associations, connections and references appear, trains of thought and imagery. And so on. The more I considered and worked on the project, the more I realised it was allowing me the opportunity to 'embrace' and make use of -and so transform, if only temporarily and to a certain degree- emotional turmoil and upheaval that I was myself going through at the time.
In one of the works, a face is depicted, eyes closed and open mouthed in suffering, or pleasure, or song, with the following from Barthes' A Lover's Discourse:
"Historically, the discourse of absence is carried on by the Woman: Woman is sedentary, Man hunts, journeys; Woman is faithful (she waits), man is fickle (he sails away, he cruises). It is Woman who gives shape to absence, elaborates its fiction, for she has time to do so; she weaves and she sings; the Spinning Songs express both immobility (by the hum of the Wheel) and absence (far away, rhythms of travel, sea surges, cavalcades). It follows that in any man who utters the other's absence something feminine is declared: this man who waits and suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminized. A man is not feminized because he is inverted but because he is in love. (Myth and utopia: the origins have belonged, the future will belong to the subjects in whom there is something feminine.)" - Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse, 1977 (Hill and Wang 1998, p13-14)