As I Have Now Memoyre is a large-scale electroacoustic vocal work about the relationship between singing and and the passing of time. The two singers inhabit an installation that is assembled during the course of the show.
The audience is invited to wander amongst the performers and witness their actions as they decode musical notation with mirrors, write on polythene walls and, at one point, build a chamber for a quartet of birds that sings eighteenth-century music.
The work was first performed in Feburary 2009 by vocalists, Linda Hirst and Natasha Lohan as part of Sound & Music’s series of monthly experimental music nights, ‘The Sound Source’ at Kings Place, London.
Since the original production, the work has toured to Riverside Studios, London (Tête à Tête opera festival, Aug 09), University of East Anglia (Sonic Arts series, No. 58, March 2010) and the Louise Blouin Foundation, London (April, 2010).
In 2012, Nicholas Brown produced and directed a film of the work, with cinematography by Tom Maine.
In Part One, a singing teacher gives a lesson to her pupil, based on a seventeenth-century treatise on the art of song. During the lesson, the pupil’s ambition and confidence increase. Eventually, she challenges her teacher by singing back at her a highly compressed, melodic parody of everything she has been taught. The teacher leaves the studio and the pupil sits at her desk.
In Part Two, the pupil paints a visual impression of the teacher’s voice onto a polythene wall by copying a pattern that the teacher made with grains of salt during Part One.
In Part Three, the pupil gives a solo performance of Shakespeare’s 102nd sonnet before the teacher returns to the studio. Teacher and pupil sit either side of the polythene wall with the painted image of the teacher’s voice and sing a duet. The pupil sings a text by the Roman philosopher, Seneca on the difference between remembering and knowing. The teacher utters short, guttural fragments in an attempt to emulate the soaring melodic lines of her pupil.
Eventually, the duet reaches an impasse and the pupil makes her exit. The teacher leaves her studio and, in an attempt to reclaim her youth, sits on the pupil’s stool and sings a fragmented version of the song the pupil sang in Part Two: ‘Just as the white swan sings at the time of his death, so to you I make my lament’.
To sing is to make sounds that are decaying with a body that is terminally fading. Sound is like life itself: it is dying from the moment it is brought into being. We deploy our memories against our fading and relive our past experiences. But the mind is fickle. Past times are modified as they are recalled. And memories last only as long as those who carry them. They cannot be preserved.
Technology comes to our aid. We have the facility to make a sound recording and militate against the transitoriness of musical activity. Into the microphone, we give voice to our decline in search of an impression of the living body for future approbation. Music and recording have become inseverable. The surrogacy of recorded sound has displaced the role of memory.
And yet the mechanism of recording vibrations of air does not emulate the weaknesses we exude. It glides over the embodied truth of our past, our prior ways of being and failing in the physical world of things. And so we wonder what it is about the activity of making music that speaks so clearly of our existence. Why is it that imperfect musical performance can distil real sense from the muddiness of memory?
Excerpt from Riverside Studios production: