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Digital Download - 3 audio tracks – 23'44”
HD 1080p QuickTime video – 11'06”
1. Bascule Chambers (2015)
2. Three Poems (2015)
3. Hoketus Prima (2015)
Catherine Carter, mezzo-soprano
Bill Cooper, trumpet
Rob Domingue, trumpet
Matthew Down, trumpet
Spencer Down, conductor
Dave Eaglestone, trombone
Rob Moseley, trombone
Ulf Pedersen, lighting design
Silvio Perugini, sound engineer
Recording of Bascule Chambers; Hoketus Prima; Tower Bridge lifting by Ian Rawes, London Sound Survey
Video by Rob Barker
Photography by Steve Stills
Text by Iain Chambers
Bascule Chambers - this piece has London Sound Survey’s recording of Tower Bridge lifting at its heart. That sound closely resembles the timbre of certain brass instruments, so it made sense to continue this musical opening with real brass from the nearby Docklands Sinfonia, creating a dialogue between the instrumental and mechanical sounds. The third element was to present the piece within the bascule chamber itself, so that the chamber’s own resonant sounds mesh with the brass and the pre-recorded bridge. The scored parts for two trombones and three trumpets deploy only those pitches 'played' by the bridge, at least until the climax of the work, when the brass briefly break free from the bridge's tonality, before the machinery shuts down the piece.
Three Poems - A piece for mezzo-soprano and field recordings that offers very little harmonic support for the singer, seeking to put the focus on the musical qualities of the watery location sounds, and on how they interact with the more traditional sung melody line. I drew on three texts that – to me – resonate with the setting of the bascule chamber, surrounded as it is by water: “On the Queen’s repairing Somerset House” by Abraham Cowley (1668); “The Bridge: To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane (1930); and Emily Dickinson's “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” (1862).
Hoketus Prima - The acoustic of the bascule chamber reminded me of a cathedral, and this fanfare was designed to deploy it to maximum effect. The brass players were positioned in the gantries high up in the bascule chamber – as far away from the audience as possible – in much the same way you might hear trumpets playing from the galleries of a cathedral. There’s a good deal of silence between the blocks of sound, the better to appreciate the strange soundworld of the bascule chamber.
Tower Bridge In the second half of the 19th century, increased commercial development in London's East End created the need for a new river crossing downstream of London Bridge. A fixed bridge would have cut off access to the port facilities of the Pool of London, so a public competition was held to find a solution. The design submitted by City Architect Horace Jones (himself one of the judges of the competition) was approved in 1884. Jones' engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry devised the bridge we see today: a combined bascule and suspension bridge. Its iconic towers are joined together by high walkways, designed to withstand the horizontal forces exerted by the suspended sections of the bridge to the left and right. The two towers carry the vertical component of the forces of the suspended sections.
The bascules are the two leaves that open to let tall vessels pass through, fully opening only for the monarch. They each weigh over 1,000 tons, and were counterbalanced to minimize the force needed to raise the bridge. The two bascule chambers house the massive counterweights when the bridge lifts, seen painted white at the top of the chamber.
Horace Jones died in 1887, and George D. Stevenson took over the project, replacing the planned brick facade with the Victorian gothic stone we recognise today, to harmonise with the nearby Tower of London. The bridge was opened in 1894.
Iain Chambers's music deploys field recordings and found environmental sounds as compositional material, exploring the latent musicality of specific locations. He has worked as a composer, performer and radio producer since the 1990s, co-founding musique concrète collective Langham Research Centre in 2003 with producers at BBC Radio 3, based in London’s Langham Place.
Iain's music is heard internationally in concerts, radio and multimedia productions, and sound art installations. He has performed at venues including Tate Modern, London Coliseum, Kettle's Yard Cambridge, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Barbican Art Gallery.
Recent work includes a 25-minute composition from endangered industrial sounds for German radio station WDR; a series of an instant re-compositions of concerts; and a concert piece with Langham Research Centre responding to Nikola Tesla's life and work.
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Track 1: Bascule Chamber Concert (extract)