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Programme Notes

I began composing this work: my first string quartet, in early 2020, while living in the USA - in Bloomington, Indiana - where I was teaching. There, I created the basic material for the piece, without knowing anything about the shape or the journey it would later take. I made rhythm patterns and pitch systems based entirely on the names and birth dates of each member of the Arditti quartet.

My time in Bloomington was cut short by lockdown and I made the quick decision to return to the UK. Somehow I felt a surge of energy being back home, and threw myself into full-speed composing, while at the same time continuing with my heavy US teaching load - by this point, online.

Spring in rural Kent, felt intense: hyperreal even. Everything seemed heightened: the colours, the air, the quiet, the birdsong.. The vital nature all around became an addiction.

I continued to work with the patterns I had made; playing with them and experimenting with endless combinations and ways to bring them to life. I needed my material to begin to lead the way somehow - so I could start to ‘collaborate’ with it - in the search for meaning, feeling and some kind of life-force. 

During that period I watched a documentary about the Hubble Deep Field images. These magical and beautiful visions effectively allow us to view time as it moves towards us from the beginnings of the universe. I took long walks through woodlands and fields, listening intently to birdsong that felt urgent, as if the volume had been turned up. Listening through - and into - the depth of layers of birdsong, brought to mind the Hubble images and it became clear to me that the quartet should embrace these two telescopic and lateral perspectives; like the merging of deep time and of song.

I became aware of Nightingales; a bird whose song seems to contain its own particularly vivid, in-built acoustic (at least that's how I heard it). Suddenly I couldn’t ‘unhear’ the Nightingales, they were everywhere! One night, it seemed there were four surrounding me; from the north, south, east and west.. 

Perhaps they assisted me in singing the quartet into life. At the very least their constant presence felt comforting and certainly helped to confirm my decisions. Like a blessing, the Nightingales’ song helped me make the leap from early patterns into something that felt alive - music!

Composing this work, at times, felt like dancing through multi-dimensional fields of sound-space.. There are dances woven in throughout and a hint of Bluegrass at the end.



Nightingales: Ultra-Deep Field

Purcell Room, Southbank Centre (London, United Kingdom)

Arditti Quartet

Nightingales: Ultra-Deep Field

No Venue (Darmstadt, Hessen, Germany)

Arditti Quartet

Nightingales: Ultra-Deep Field

Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie (Berlin, Germany)

Arditti Quartet