This isn't light, only its
Simulacrum - a shadowless, bleached out glare,
Its forced reproduction in the
Scoured out lie of the everpresent, a light to
Obscure the darkness of a time without
Vision; a world blinded by the
Persistent absence of hope and the
Audacity of lies and a species left
Crawling in the rubble, groping and clutching
For comfort, for solace...
Perhaps it’s the collaboration of it
All: the softly
Crashing waves, clattering gulls,
Lapping breeze and clouds -
Drifting chunks of torn fresh bread, or,
A ruffled veil, the
Backlit negative of
Furrows in the sands.
Breath in deeply.
Crack and over a coolness
Washes as though
Surfacing from the sea,
Grains of sand left on shining
skin like toxin
Forced through its
We even think we've welcomed
The enshrouding darkness: cloaked by
A thick, suffocating whisper of poisonous words we can't
Locate, we mistake these words for our nature. What can take root here except
Desperate mutations, strange and defiant forms? [of deformed
Hope?] Yet, maybe something gestates in this
Long pause of darkness. Sudden
Flares ignite the sky, and, for
Frozen seconds, as they fall, illuminate our pounded but unbroken
Humanity, and we see, clearly, the
Perpetual light obscuring its own darkness
Trying to hide our humanity from ourselves.
This isn’t light, consists of two poems by Bruce Arthur. And now, exhale represents the light, airy relief found on a beach in the North East. The second text, Lucubrations attempts to unpack what one might need this respite from.
Bruce put into words the darkness that enshrouds us; the relentless reiteration of 'now' as the best and only possible world, blinding us from our choices. He describes light as a metaphor for hyper technology and the idea of the everpresent. These things are part of the same insane lie, and serve to conceal (or justify) all manner of horrors. The atrocities being committed across the globe this Summer were at the front of my mind as I wrote, and the timing of the WWI centenary cannot be ignored. The work carries the subtitle a call to humanity.
Towards the conclusion of this rather sombre contemplation there is hope that through the tragedy what is missing from the world can only become clearer and a true light may emerge.
“Life is always surprising us, not by its rich seething layer of bestial refuse - but by the bright, healthy and creative powers of goodness that are for ever forcing their way up through it. It is those powers that awaken our indestructible hope that a brighter, better and more humane life will once again be reborn.” [Gorky, Maxim, trans. Wilks, Ronald, My Childhood, Middlesex: Penguin, 1983]
When I was in Malawi in 2008 I was woken early every morning by the Adhan or Call to Prayer; the enchanting song from each of the many mosques created a powerful polyphony. To an outsider the loud and emotional solo vocal instructions to its followers were impossible to ignore. I was attracted by such a stirring and direct call to the entire neighbourhood and that seemed to resonate with elements of this work: something of collective responsibility and cutting through the ‘noise’.
The work has a clear ternary structure, the opening and closing sections set the ‘dark’ text described above and explore Maqam Saba, described as the ‘sad and tragic’ Arabic mode. I decided that, for the purposes of expression in this choral context, the microtonal inflections of the mode would not be used. Initially the solo vocal entries build according to the traditional rules of pitch order and progression for this Maqam then gradually the music finds a more personal interpretation of this sound world. The central section sets And now, exhale: a breath of fresh air and solace of nature. We are inevitably dragged back into the darkness: we cannot and should not avoid it.
This isn’t light was commissioned by Late Music and was premiered in York on the 4th October ’14.