Starfish

2016

tenor, piano and electronics with live video
Text: Nicholas Brown
6’
First performance: James Geer (tenor) and Nicholas Brown (piano) at the Mumford Theatre, Cambridge in Feburary 2016.

Starfish (2016) is a song for high voice, piano and live electronics with accompanying time-lapse video by F.C. Heathorn. It is a 2016 reworking of a song/haiku I wrote in 2010 about finding a four-armed starfish on Holkham Beach, Norfolk, England in winter.

The song was reworked by expanding the vocal line and developing the accompaniment for piano and electronics. Cut-up fragments from the original text are delivered by the tenor voice as if washed ashore with the sea foam:

Relics of the sea,
Dark viridian woodland.
Blanched red glow of sand.


Starfish marks the second of my collaborations with the artist, F.C. Heathorn, following my sound installation based on regional field recordings for her 2015 show of oil paintings (In Arcady, Yallops Gallery, Norwich).

painting by F.C. Heathorn | oil on canvas | copyright © F.C. Heathorn. Used with permission. Still image from time-lapse video by Nicholas Brown

Programme Note

In 2009, I left London for Norfolk. Soon after my arrival, I wrote a short haiku/song about finding a four-armed starfish on Holkham Beach in winter. In February 2016, I reworked the song by expanding the vocal line and developing the accompaniment for piano and electronics. Cut-up fragments from the text (Relics of the sea/Dark viridian woodland/Blanched red glow of sand) are delivered by the tenor voice as if they had been washed ashore with the sea foam. This reworking marks the second of my collaborations with the artist, F.C. Heathorn, following my sound installation based on regional field recordings for her 2015 show of oil paintings (In Arcady, Yallops Gallery, Norwich).

Starfish is therefore a piece about the effect of relocation on creativity, particularly the influence of the Norfolk landscape on my compositional practice. When I wrote the original song, my creative identity was still tied to London. I didn’t quite anticipate the effect this coastal landscape would have on my work over the next six years. And so this reworking is a kind of meditation – not only on landscape, but also on the possibility of artistic change. We go to schools and colleges to learn about our art. But what we can’t quite control is that whatever kind of artist we become, our work will speak of where we live.

Nicholas Brown February, 2016

This programme note for Starfish by Nicholas Brown is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.