Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco


computer-manipulated concrete sounds (pre-recorded quadraphonic tape)
Electronics Only

Commissioned by IRCAM

First Performance
30.11.80, Lille Festival

A link to the electronic resources necessary for public performance will be supplied by the hire library upon request (

Programme Notes

This work is a reflection of my experiences at Winchester Cathedral where my son Dominic was a chorister from 1975-1980. It is based on his voice and that of the great tenor bell. This enormous black bell of superhuman power has inscribed upon it: HORAS AVOLANTES NUMERO MORTUOS PLANO: VIVOS AD PRECES VOCO (I count the fleeing hours, I lament the dead: I call the living to prayers). This serves as the boy’s text. The pitch and time structure of my work is entirely based on the bell’s rich, irregular harmonic spectrum, a structure neither tonal nor dodecaphonic nor modal in any western or oriental sense, but unique to itself. The eight sections are each based on one of the principal eight lowest partials. Chords are constructed from the repertoire of 33 partials; modulations from one area of the spectrum to another are effected by glissandi. Constant transformations between the spectrum of a vocal vowel and that of the bell are made by internal manipulation of the two sounds’ components. The walls of the concert hall are conceived as the sides of the bell inside which is the audience, and around which (especially in the original 8-channel version) flies the free spirit of the boy. The work was commissioned for IRCAM by the Centre Georges Pompidou and first performed at the IRCAM day in the Lille Festival on 30 November 1980. It was made at IRCAM with the helpful assistance of Stanley Haynes in July-August 1980.

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News & Reviews

'Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco' reviews

'… one of Britain's most important contemporary composers… on Mortuos Plango the cross-breeding of recorded sounds of bell and voice with synthetic simulations of them remains quite stunning…' Read more

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