The Island Chapel

Description: 

Text: Etel Adnan
Duration 17'
Dedication: Jocelyn Herbert
(i) Instrumentation: mezzo-soprano voice, cello, Korg M1
First performance: Melanie Pappenheim, Sophie Harris, Gavin Bryars, The Island Chapel, St. Ives, Cornwall, April 26th 1997
(ii) Instrumentation: mezzo-soprano voice, electric guitar, bass clarinet, electric keyboard, 2 violas, cello

The Island Chapel

The Island Chapel was written in 1997 specifically for performance in St. Nicholas Chapel, St. Ives. The piece involves a response to a number of different stimuli. In the first place there is the chapel itself, a simple, tiny building perched in isolation and overlooking the sea on three sides. The "Island" itself is strictly a peninsula (for James Joyce, "a disappointed island") and on the fourth side it looks back towards the town and the Tate Gallery.

A second stimulus is the relationship between the chapel and the gallery across the bay, and this piece was written in relation to the paintings of James Hugonin in the exhibition (A Quality of Light). Two of his pictures were located in the chapel itself, similar in content to those in the main gallery but much smaller, each one the size of a page in the Lindisfarne Gospels. The relationship between the gallery and the chapel mirrors that of James working environment: he lives near the Northumbrian coast and there is a similar physical and spiritual connection between his studio and Holy Island (Lindisfarne).

I have written music before in response to James's work and in the context of his exhibitions. For this piece I visited St. Ives specifically to spend some time privately in the chapel when the two small pictures from James's Lindisfarne series were being installed. The music, for contralto voice, cello and electric keyboard, was designed for performance to a small invited audience in this intimate, semi-private space and to be recorded for replay in the gallery itself - the original idea was to broadcast the piece. The chapel is tiny and the maximum audience size was 6 people in addition to the three performers - so the piece was played twice and recorded on each occasion. The text comprises two self-contained poems Crossing no.3 and Crossing no.4 from an extended poem The Manifestations of the Voyage by the Lebanese poet Etel Adnan whose poetry I have set on a number of occasions. I wished to avoid any direct reference to the chapel or to the paintings, but rather to find through metaphor and allusion a poetic equivalent.

Just as James' work demonstrates through abstraction an affinity with real spaces, both physical and spiritual, so the music has an intimate relationship with the chapel's poignant solitude, the imagery of the Adnan poems and the musical sensibilities of the performers - Melanie Pappenheim (voice), Sophie Harris (cello), Gavin Bryars (keyboard).

Text of The Island Chapel

(Crossing no.3)

I am a bird

regenerated

lost

resurrected

originating not from the empire

of the Dead

but from the bottom of a

female valley

blinded to better

hear waves and goddesses

 

I preferred the waves

to the sea.

 

Feeding on the setting sun

I'm desperately trying

to spend this dark night with an Angel.

 

sumptuous days

precede my birth

as if they were the coldness

of the snow

shipwrecked is my memory

 

The linden leaves are

in turmoil

when a tree postpones its

renewal

 

I am the interplay of day and night.

 

Rambling under the pregnant moon

unbeliever in my own existence

I inhabit the sleep of the dead who,

introduced by archangels

to dark secrets,

pursue their quest....

ferocious is the truth which

manifests itself solely in the

lie of the poem.

 

 

(Crossing  no.4)

 

I go

with speed and love

into the night

 

the hour hovers

between the bread

the faucet

and the sadness

 

sorrow     sorrowful     sorrow

the bridges' escape

under the arch

and the green water

the immense gaze of Nothingness

 

crepuscular twilight

cutting the red sky in two

I am woman

succulent grown

with webbed feet

a crocodile's smile between

my teeth

 

raving mad a man came down the

stairs

stealthily

recapitulating his death

 

the night has devoured its stars

gutters explode

we're animals with no pride

 

trumpet gathering its

herd

love takes the form

of absinths and thorns