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A short madrigal for seven voices - three sopranos; countertenor; tenor; baritone; bass

Note : Solitude Note

Solitude Note

In 2010 the Akademie Schloss Solitude, near Stuttgart in Germany, celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a series of events and projects.

For the anniversary evening - July 17 - at the Theaterhaus, Stuttgart the festival organizers planned four concerts in four different rooms; each with a different ensemble constellation featuring short compositions by as many former composition fellows as possible. Each composer was asked to follow the rule that each composition should begin and end with the Tristan Chord (B-F, D#-G# or Eb-Ab), thus separating the individual compositions for the listener during the concert.

 The Tristan Chord functions as the connection between the individual contributions.

At the invitation of his good friend Jean-Baptiste Joly (director of the Akademie since its inception) Gavin Bryars wrote an unaccompanied vocal piece, the "Solitude Madrigal", for Neue Vocalsolisten Suttgart


"Nova angeletta" (Petrarch: Rime Sparse 106)


Nova angeletta sovra l'ale accorta

scese dal cielo in su la fresca riva

là 'nd' io passava sol per mio destino.


Poi che senza compagna et senza scrota

mi vide, un laccio che di seta ordiva

tese fra l'erba ond' è verde il camino.


Allor fui preso, et non mi spiacque poi,

si dolce lume uscia degli occhi suoi.


A new little angel on agile wings came down from heaven to the fresh shore where I was walking alone by my destiny.

Since she saw me without companion and without guide, a silken snare which she was making she stretched in the grass wherewith the way is green.

Then I was captured, and it did not displease me later, so sweet a light came from her eyes!

(Translation by Robert M Durling)






Text: P.K. Page
Duration: c. 4’
Instrumentation: contralto voice, 6 celli, 4 basses, percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, cymbal)
First Performance: Centennial Hall Winnipeg; Holly Cole, voice, members of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Bramwell Tovey

Note : The Apple (1998)

The Apple (1998)

Like Planet Earth, The Apple was written for the Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole to perform at the 1999 Winnipeg New Music Festival, thrown in as a bonus to the commission from the CBC, and also sets a poem by P.K. Page. Holly's voice is very low, and the highest note that she suggested I write for her, B in the middle of the treble clef, is a note which can be sung by a reasonable tenor voice. As a consequence I decided to emphasise this low and husky quality, which works beautifully when sung using a microphone, with a parallel and very dark orchestration. I wrote for 6 solo cellos, 4 solo basses, and untuned percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, suspended cymbal). The piece is very short, lasting only 4 minutes or so.

I have since made a version for my own ensemble to play. This gives an instrumentation of 2 violas, cello, bass, bass clarinet, electric guitar, percussion, plus low female voice.

Duration: 17’
Instrumentation: 2 Pan-pipes, 2 alto saxophones, bass-clarinet, 2 sampling keyboards, octopads (with sampler), 5-string violin, 5-string cello, electric guitar, electric bass
First Performance: Bristol, April 18th 1993

Note : The Archangel Trip (1992)

The Archangel Trip (1992)

This piece, written for Icebreaker, uses most of the instruments available within its unique line-up. The title, and aspects of the musical imagery, comes from a pun derived from Icebreaker's name and inspired by a documentary film about two Russian icebreakers that ply the seas above the northern coasts of Russia. The home port of the ships is the north-western town of Archangel and the two ships move independently through these frozen and inhospitable seas - one sailing from east to west, the other from west to east - and meeting occasionally when their paths cross. The piece, then, becomes a kind of journey, moving from one musical state to another. It begins and ends in home territory, a sequence of drones derived from Japanese court music. The central section is an extended arioso for saxophones, doubled at times by the electric guitar using an E-bow, accompanied by electric strings, rough-hewn percussion and hocketting pan-pipes.

The idea for the piece was suggested in part by Jules Verne's novel Measuring a Meridian.

Text: Jules Verne (from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea)
Duration: c.15’
Instrumentation: Soprano and organ.
First performance: Leicester Cathedral, 22 January 1991

Note : The Black River (1991)

The Black River (1991)

for soprano and organ

This piece is one of a series of works that take texts or imagery from the work of Jules Verne. Here the text is taken from  20,000 Leagues under the Sea, a section in which Professor Aronnax describes the scene outside the Nautilus where countless varieties of sea-creatures escort the submarine along the current of the mysterious underwater  Black River. Coincidentally the first work that I wrote using Verne as a source, the cantata Effarene (1984), sets an earlier portion of the same chapter for its closing movement and I find the objectivity and invention of Verne's language a constant stimulus. As Raymond Queneau said of Verne: "What a style! Nothing but nouns."

The piece was written for a concert given by the organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent at Leicester Cathedral in January 1991 and later recorded by him with soprano Sarah Leonard for ECM New Series in 1993.


For string quartet, double bass, piano, percussion
First performance Mr McFall's Chamber, East Neuk Festival June 2007

Note : The Church closest to the Sea (2007)

The Church closest to the Sea (2007)

For string quartet, double bass, piano, percussion

Although ostensibly for a quite conventional instrumentation, the piece reflects something of the unusual character of the ensemble that commissioned it  - Mr McFall's Chamber - and its eclectic approach to repertoire. It features the solo pizzicato double bass, employing the subtly free rhythmic approach of the jazz ballad, with cameo solo parts for the other string instruments. The impetus to write the piece came from a chance meeting with bassist Rick Standley on a flight from Valencia in 2002, which alerted me to the group's ethos. As bassists we found that we had a great deal in common, although we have diametrically opposed views on the electric bass - an instrument which he plays beautifully, but which I loathe.

The title of the work relates to the ensemble's Scottish origins, and to the location of the work's premiere in the East Neuk (the ancient name for Fife). Many years ago I attended a friend's wedding, conducted in English and Scots, in the very lovely 750-year-old St Monans Church, a church built on the rocks by the Firth of Forth, and being the church closest to the sea in Scotland.

It is dedicated to Mr McFall's Chamber

Gavin Bryars, June 2007


Duration: 7’
Instrumentation: 2 violins
Dedicated to Alexander Balanescu, Liz Perry and John Carney
First performance (no.2): St Paul's Hall Huddersfield (Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) 2 December 1990
(NB. also included as part of Die Letzten Tage , q.v. 1992)

Duration: 12’
Instrumentation: ‘elastic’ scoring. Ensemble comprises: i) piano. ii) 2 marimbas or l marimba and l bass marimba, or l marimba and l vibes, or l marimba. iii) viola and/or violin,
and/or treble viol, optional clarinet, and/or 2nd violin. iv) violin, and/or bass clarinet, and/or tuba or bass, optional steel drums and shakers.
First performance: Chapelle de la Sorbonne, Paris (Festival d'Automne),
16 November 1979.

Duration 15'
Dedication: Lawrence Cherney
Instrumentation: Bass oboe solo; chamber orchestra
First performance. Lawrence Cherney, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Bramwell Tovey, Winnipeg January 1995

Note : The East Coast (1994)

The East Coast (1994)

for bass oboe and orchestra

I had met the oboist Lawrence Cherney when he invited me to Canada for a series of concerts in the Glenn Gould Studio in 1993. When he asked me for a piece to perform at the Winnipeg New Music Festival I had to balance my admiration for his wonderful musicianship with my personal distaste for the oboe ( in my opera Medea I had replaced the oboes with saxophones). However, I pointed out that this antipathy lessens as the pitch range lowers (via the oboe d'amore, through the cor anglais, to the bass oboe) and suggested therefore a concerto for bass oboe. The French instrument maker Lorée provided Lawrence with a fine instrument which - fortunately, as I'd included the note - had the low B flat key. In keeping with the dignity and melancholy inherent in the instrument's sound the piece does not feature virtuosic display but rather focuses on its ability to sustain long melodic phrases of an elegiac character. In this I had in mind the lovely bass oboe solo in Grainger's The Warriors.

This piece is the third in a series of four for solo instrument and accompaniment (piano and/or orchestra) in which each one has a title with a personal geographical connotation taken from the four cardinal points. The first, The Green Ray, a concerto for soprano saxophone and orchestra, relates to western coasts (of Scotland and southern California); the second, The North Shore, for viola, refers to the image of facing north from St. Hilda's Abbey at Whitby; this third, for bass oboe, is connected both to the east coast of North Yorkshire and to the Bay of Fundy in Canada; and the last, for cello, called The South Downs alludes to the southern coast of England. Those pieces that face in opposite directions, as it were, are in effect mirror images of each other, though coloured by the character of their implied location. With the two string pieces the viola piece's implied austerity is balanced by the cello piece's warmth. In the case of the pieces for reed instruments, therefore, the bass oboe concerto is a much cooler, bleaker variant of The Green Ray.

The piece was commissioned by Lawrence Cherney with additional funds made available by the Arts Council of England.

Gavin Bryars

Duration: 6’
Instrumentation: 2 vibes, 6 roto-toms ( 4 players)
First performance: Air Gallery, London 23 April 1980.

Duration: 20’
Dedicated to John Harle and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta.
Commissioned by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta.
Instrumentation:  Solo soprano saxophone and orchestra
1(picc),1 + Cor.A.,1(Bs.cl),2(contra);
2, Flugelhorn,1,0;
piano, Percussion (1 player- bass drum, tam-tam, glockenspiel, bells, cymbal)
Strings ( n.b. 21 part divisi  essential.
First performance: St. Mary’s Church, Swanage, July 6th 1991.

Note : The Green Ray

The Green Ray

(for soprano saxophone and orchestra)

The piece is dedicated to John Harle and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, who commissioned it with funds made available by South West Arts. It makes use of the saxophone's ability to play long expressive melodic passages, and was written too, having seen the Sinfonietta perform, with some of its individual players in mind. Although played without a break, the piece does fall into a number of recognisable sections delineated by a change of tempo, or by a substantial shift of texture. For example, shortly before the end, there is a passage where the saxophone is accompanied by 21 solo strings - the entire string section playing divisi - followed by a coda, which contains simultaneous  "laments" (for saxophone, cor anglais, French horn, and solo violin).

The Green Ray is the title of a romantic novel by Jules Verne, set in the West of Scotland, in which a peculiar atmospheric phenomenon plays the key part. A "green ray" is seen at sunset in certain latitudes, and in certain coastal conditions, just as the sun touches the horizon and, for a brief moment, the orange sun emits a green ray of light. In the Verne story the simultaneous sighting of the ray will seal a couple's love, and the attempts of a young man to do this are constantly frustrated (by sudden clouds, by a yacht passing along the horizon, and so on). This part of Western Scotland is also the place where certain piping traditions originated. Male pipers practised in one cave on the seashore, females in another (the "piper's cave" and the "pigeon's cave"). As they played their laments at twilight a triangulation, similar to that in the Verne story (male-ray-female) may well have occurred without the knowledge of the innocent participants, hence the sequence of simultaneous laments in the coda.

On one occasion I witnessed the green ray in Southern California. I was returning along the coast after having climbed up Mt.Tecate, on the top of which is a house, now empty, where Evans-Wentz translated The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Gavin Bryars

Recording piece
Published in EMC Verbal Anthology.
Never performed - imperfectly realised Waterloo Station, summer 1970.

Instrumentation: indeterminate
Published in EMC Verbal Anthology.
Never performed.

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

Note : The Island Chapel

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).

Note : Text of The Island Chapel

Text of The Island Chapel

(Crossing no.3)

I am a bird




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



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



recapitulating his death


the night has devoured its stars

gutters explode

we're animals with no pride


trumpet gathering its


love takes the form

of absinths and thorns

Text: 7th Century Northumbrian
Duration: 10”
Dedication: Mr. and Mrs. Haseley Ekers
Instrumentation: 2 violins, male voices (alto, 2 tenors, baritone, bass), organ
First performance: St Thomas’s Church, Wells (Ekers/Peake Wedding), August 1st 1992

Text: Edwin Morgan
Duration c.5'
Male Choir

Note : The Mirror

The Mirror

There is a mirror only we can see.

It hangs in time and not in space. The day

goes down in it without ember or ray

and the newborn climb through it to be free.

The multitudes of the world cannot know

they are reflected there; like glass they lie

in glass, shadows in shade, they could not cry

in airless wastes but that is where they go.

We cloud it, but it pulses like a gem,

it must have caught a range of energies

from the dead. We breathe again; nothing shows.

Back in space, ubi solitudinem

faciunt pacem appellant. Ages

drum-tap the flattened homes and slaughtered rows.


Edwin Morgan (from Sonnets from Scotland)

A group of (currently) 7 songs for tenor, soprano, electric guitar, viola, cello, double bass. Text Blake Morrison. First performance Kings Place, London Octopber 2010)

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Note : Gavin's note

Gavin's note

The Morrison Songbook sets texts by my long time collaborator Blake Morrison. Blake had written a number of poems intended to be set as madrigal texts for my First Book of Madrigals. Thirteen poems were used for that collection using those that were written from the male point of view. For a concert in London (November 2010) I re-wrote seven of these madrigals for tenor (John Potter) and members of my ensemble (James Woodrow, electric guitar; Morgan Goff, viola; Nick Cooper, cello; and myself on double bass). There will eventuallty be more - at least 14. For a performance of these 7 in Orleans, France, I ghave some of the solos to Anna Maria Friman and the set will ultimately have solos for bothg male and female voices.

(+ viola and strings and viola and ensemble versions)

Duration: 12'
Dedication: Debbie Mason
Instrumentation (i): viola and piano
First  Performance: Fruitmarket Gallery Edinburgh, October 19 1993
Instrumentation (ii) (revised 1994): solo viola, harp (or piano), strings (min., percussion (bass drum, tam-tam, 2 cymbals)
NB this version is longer and has a modified solo part too
First Performance: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London June 30th 1994

Note : The North Shore (1993)

The North Shore (1993)

This piece, originally for viola and piano, was written for Bill Hawkes and Nic Hodges to play at the opening of an exhibition of the work of James Hugonin in Edinburgh. It has been subsequently expanded both in duration and instrumentation to give two other versions: one for solo viola, strings and harp (or piano), the other specially written for my ensemble (solo viola, clarinet, electric guitar, viola, cello, bass and piano). Through working with Bill Hawkes, and earlier with Alexander Balanescu, I have become more and more interested in the viola both in ensemble and as a solo instrument. Indeed I was originally to write a work for voice and viola for the exhibition but due to the unavailability of the singer I wrote this instrumental piece instead, retaining nevertheless the original intention of connecting the piece with a specific geographical region. I particularly like the relationship between the abstraction of Hugonin's paintings and the location where they are painted - the North East of England. Having already written a number of vocal pieces that use Northumbrian texts (by Caedmon) I decided however to move a little further down the coast, to Whitby where I had spent summers as a child and particularly to the cliffs by St Hilda's Abbey. The North Shore, therefore, takes this austere location as its inspiration - the same as the descriptive narrative used for the vocal piece I subsequently wrote based on Bram Stoker's Dracula (From Mina Harker's Journal).  It represents a kind of response to the "Idea of North" found in the work of Glenn Gould, as well as a reflection on the obsession of Jules Verne's Captain Hatteras who, in his final madness, would walk only towards the north.




Duration: 15’
Instrumentation (i): Piano (+ horn), bass clarinet, violin (or viola), cello, bass, electric guitar,  2 percussion (vibes, tam-tam, sizzle cymbal, marimba, bells).
First performance: Almeida Festival, Union Chapel, London, 13 June 1987.
Instrumentation (ii) (arr. Roger Heaton)  Piano, bass-clarinet, violin
First performance Huddersfield, November 22 1992

Note : The Old Tower of Löbenicht (1986, rev. 1994)

The Old Tower of Löbenicht (1986, rev. 1994)

The original ensemble version of this piece was first performed at the Almeida Festival in 1986 (and later recorded for ECM Records) and is a sketch for an instrumental interlude in a projected opera based on Thomas De Quincey's The Last Days of Immanuel Kant. It occurs at a point in the opera where Kant is disturbed at the way in which growing poplar trees have obscured the view of a distant tower which "he could not be said properly to see..but (which) rested upon his eye as distant music on the ear - obscurely, or but half revealed to the consciousness". The owner of the trees, learning of Kant's distress, has them cropped.  This interlude, which is broadly symmetrical, represents in effect the two different states of Kant's response to his perceptions of the old tower.

Since making this first version I have revised the piece in two ways. Firstly I have re-written the solo part for my cellist, Sophie Harris. Secondly I have added a short prelude, based on John Coltrane's "After the Rain". The concert we were to have given in a beautiful outdoor courtyard in Ferrara was cancelled when a violent storm broke out just as we were about to play. This prelude ("Doppo la Pioggia") was written the next morning to open the postponed performance.

Gavin Bryars.

soprano, mezzo, 2 pianos, 6 percussion
Duration 70’
First performance Theatre Cryptic, dir. Cathie Boyd
Angela Tunstall, soprano; Alexander Gibson, mezzo
Paragon Ensemble cond. Garry Walker
Tramway, Glasgow November 2

Note : Text of The Paper Nautilus

Text of The Paper Nautilus


La Science (Marie Curie)

Je suis de ceux qui pensent que la Science a une grande beauté. Un savant dans son laboratoire n'est pas seulement un technicien, c'est aussi un enfant placé en face de phénomènes naturels qui l'impressionnent comme un conte de fées. Nous ne devons pas laisser croire que tout progrès scientifique se réduit à des mécanismes, des machines, des engrenages qui d'ailleurs ont leur beauté propre. Je ne crois pas non plus que dans notre monde l'esprit d'aventure risque de disparaitre. Si je vois autour de moi quelquechose de vital, c'est précisement cet esprit qui parait indéracinable et s'apparente à la curiosité.



La Reine de la mer (Etel Adnan)

La mer bouge dans nos lèvres

Et s'élève comme murailles dans nos yeux.

Le vent dérange nos cheveux

Pour en faire piques et épines

Le voici comme une paume sur l'échine

Apaisé des eaux

L'éternité court sur la matière fluide

Ni mouvement ni essence

Mais le visage lavé et délavé de la mer.


Je suis exposé à la nudité de la lumière

Et abandonnée à la lèvre multiple de la mer

Je suis liquide, élément liquide

La terre ses volcans, ses ravines, sa colère.

Je suis ses torrents et sa vase

Et son limon et son printemps

Liquide, élément liquide,

Je suis la mer et unie à la mer.

Liquide, liquide, élément liquide.

Je suis la mer et la Reine de la mer.



Ars Photographica (Pope Leo XIII)

Expressa solis spiculo

Nitens imago, quam bene frontis deus,

Vim luminum refers,

Et oris gratiam imagine.

O mira virtus ingeni

Novumque monstrum

Imaginem Naturae Apelles

Apelles Aemulus

Non pulchriorem pingeret

Expressa nolis, expressa solis spiculo Naturae

Expressa, expressa solis quam bene prontis

Novumque monstrum refers

Nitens imago quam bene frontis deus

Vim luminum O mira gratiam

Expressa solis spiculo

Mira virtus ingeni novum

Et oris gratiam

Mira oris gratiam



De profundis maris (Vulgate)

quam magnificata sunt opera tua Domine

omnia in sapientia fecisti

impleta est terra possessione tua


hoc mare magnum et spatiosum minibus:

illic reptilia quorum non est numerus

animalia pusilla cum magnis.


tu dominaris potestatis maris

motum autem fluctuum eius tu mitigas


gyrat per meridiem et flectitur ad aquilonem

lustrans universa circuitu pergit spirtitus et in circulos suos regriditur


omnia flumina intrant mare et mare non redundant

ad locum unde exeunt flumina revertuntur ut iterum fluant


dixit Dominus de Basan convertam convertam de profundis maris



The sea mysteries (Jackie Kay)

Like an oyster hides its pearl,

The sea hides its wonder world.


Like a mermaid flicks her tail,

The sea is real and surreal.


Like the heart of the angler fish,

The sea's heart beats in the dead of night,


The sonar's echo of lovers dead and lost,

All the lonely people - lost at sea.


the haunting music of the deep dark sea.




All around the wide world,

the sea speaks in many tongues.


In many skins, the sea repeats its lines.

With wide, tide arms, the sea keeps time.


In the great treasure chest below

Are the sea special gifts:


Lantern fish, bristlemouths, hatchetfish,

Plankton, krill, shrimps, copepods, squid.


Pink eggs, razor sharp teeth, transparent shells.

Triple wart sea devil, common black devil fish.


As if the sea imagined its creatures,

dragging the ocean for inspiration,


As if the sea drew a rough sketch,

Then coloured them in:


Black and red creatures of the dark zone.

Fish that flash, fish that turn themselves inside out.


Out of the vivid imagination of the sea,

Crawled the wild and the wonderful,


The gulper eel, the vampire squid from hell,

the kind and the savage, the beautiful and the ugly,


The saints and the martyrs,

The myths and the workers.


Nothing could ever surprise the sea.

The sea is you. The sea is me.



Like an oyster hides its pearl,

The sea hides its wonder world.


Like the heart of the angler fish,

The sea's heart beats in the dead of night,


The sonar's echo of lovers dead and lost:


the haunting music of the deep dark sea.




Where there is light (Jackie Kay)

You hold the world's fishing

boats in your large hands.

The nets and the hoops

and the hooks and the loops.

You  offer up your silver fish,

your  secret shells, your stones.

And sometimes you take something back,

a child or a man or a woman.


You let a little useless light in,

not very far down,

Where small red plants grow deep

in you, small flames,

And see-through see creatures

sweep through  you,

And occasionally you are lit up

by very fierce colour.


Deeper down, deeper down again

Where it is colder

(so much colder, really very cold!)

Where plants don't grow

in you any more.

Down, where you are older,

where there is more pressure,

where things are fiercer, crueller.


Down, past the  little

lightness into the dark.

Down, into the deeper dark,

into the colder dark

Down in the depths of despair,

where it seems

nothing could ever get better or fairer

where no one cares who you might have been.


Down, now in the complete dark

Where luminous fish swim through you

And large journeys begin in you

Where it all that  matters

Is to see and not be seen.

Where the desire is to be invisible,

For the rocks at the bottom

To hold and caress; you make your bed.


You make your big bed.



Vertical migration (Jackie Kay)

When the moon's behind clouds

And the light is dim,

You rise up.

When the moon is full

You can't risk being seen,

You go down.

Even the moonlight is dangerous

When the light is up

You hide your face,

Your big eyes.

When the moon has gone

And the sun comes out

You go down

Under the cover of darkness

To the roomy gloom

Where you are at home -

Away from the border.

Every night, this same story

You risk your life

Going up and coming down

Don't come too close to the surface.      

Out of the gloom,

back to the gloom

waiting for the night to come

Every night you go out

Looking for the ones who are looking for you.

Oh, do any of us understand

Even the moonlight is dangerous

What it is like to be you in this fierce land.

Always on the move, always full of fear

Travelling in the dead of night.

For the migrant is never truly safe.

The migrant has to hide her face.

The migrant has to skulk around

Under the cover of darkness

When everybody is sleeping;

When the moon is sleeping,

Behind thick clouds,

You go down.

You go down, down, down.

Nothing ever changes.

Under the cover of darkness

Don't come too close to the surface.

Even the moonlight is dangerous.



The Angler's Song (Jackie Kay)

Down where I am, my love, there is no love.

There is no light, no break of day, no rising sun.

Where I am, I call you in; I open my large mouth.

The only light down here comes from my body.


Down where I am is deeper than you imagine.

There is no food, no easy prey, and it is freezing cold.

I sing to make you say my name. My big eyes weep.

This is the world of never ending darkness like pain.


Come down. I have been waiting for you a long time.

I wait without appearing to wait.

I see without being seen to see. You know me.

I am big headed. I am hideous. I am ugly.


Come down. When I find you, I will bite into your belly.

What you see is what you get with me.

There is no other way. I will become you, let us say.

All that will be left of me will be my breathing.


Come down where I am. In and out, out and in.

Down at the very bottom of the deep dark sea.

When I become you, my mouth will stay open.

My open mouth like the river mouth down at the bottom.


Come down where I am. I will flash my lights for you.

My large eyes will take you in, contain you.

I make no promises. I offer nothing. Not even light.

Down, deep down in the dark, at the bottom, is my bed.


My sea bed, love, where there are no promises of love.

Dark - where there are no promises of light.

Where there is little hope of food;

Where day and night are night and day.


My sea bed, I tell no lies, so your heart

will not be broken. I offer nothing.

All you will have is my breathing.

But I will give myself up to you.


I will give myself up for you.



Where there is no light (Jackie Kay)

Where there is no light

When the pain comes in


Deep down below what

Anybody ever believed in


Where there are only mouths

Opening and closing


Where the head is out of all proportion

To the body


Where the kindness has gone

where all there is to do day and night


is seek out the black and the red, the red and the black

at the bottom of the sea's dark, cold, bed,


at the bottom

of the sea's dark bed.


At the bottom of the sea's cold bed

At the bottom of the sea bed.


X La Reine de la Mer (2) (Etel Adnan)

Liquide, liquide, élément liquide.

Je suis la mer et la Reine de la mer.


Coda (Bible)

Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.


Duration: 20’
Instrumentation: 2 pianos, tape, percussion, optional slides, tape.
First performance: Free University of Brussels, 1 April 1977.