pe_ple_sc_ns (2017)

Soprano, baritone & electronics

c. 3’00

Dec 2017, National Portrait Gallery, London (pre-recorded)

Score & electronic track available upon request; score preview on issuu:

Recorded by:
Amanda Ng (soprano)
Samuel Dewese (baritone)

blankI composed this piece for the Taylor-Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize Exhibition Concert, in response to Kurt Hoerbst’s People Scans — a photograph series of human subjects lying down facing a camera, which slowly ‘scans’ their full body profiles. I am struck by two aspects of Hoerbst’s work. He pushes the notion of ‘freezing’ a human subject (as in photography) to a conceptual extreme by literally scanning people flat. He also subverts the demand for high-speed (in digital photography) as he meticulously snaps twenty images for each subject and patiently stitches them together, paying attention to the details of his subjects’ physical features.

blankMy piece, then, produces a ‘sonic scan’ of the harmonic series of A (the fundamental note), with the two singers gradually tracing and revealing the partials of the series as the piece progresses. Reverberation (EnVerb) and a synthesised track are both applied (through the use of electronics) to sustain and reinforce the vocal sounds, ‘freezing’ the harmonies in time. Furthermore, my setting of the line extracted from Maya Angelou’s Human Family — ’In minor ways we differ, in major we’re the same.’ — parses the words into their constituent syllables. It is as though the text is also being slowly passed through a phonetic scanner. Interestingly, it is only in retrospect that the listener might possibly re-arrange the words into their proper order. In a metaphysical sense, the process of ‘scanning’ has transcended the music into the listener’s mind.

blankA brief comment regarding Angelou’s text — isn’t it an apt affirmation of what Hoerbst shows us, that while his subjects differ in detailed features, each is no less ‘human’ than the other? Finally, with regards to the title, I wanted to reflect the ‘same-but-different’ nature of a response piece like this, which ‘scans’ Hoerbst’s work for conceptual features and then moves on to imagine a new ‘composite’.