Harvey: The Angels, Ashes Dance Back & other choral works
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As with the three ‘elements’ in Ashes Dance Back, the structure that the three ‘realms’ give to Marahi is much less schematic than such bald description suggests. The piece runs continuously: the divisions between the different realms are often blurred, and the sounds that represent them often superimposed, as for example when the sopranos continue a monodic chant as the other singers begin the whistles, growls, ‘low-pitched ululations’ and ‘pig grunts’ that represent the animal realm. The intention, of course, is to suggest the interdependency of different aspects of creation as well as the continuity between Christian and Buddhist concepts of divine femininity.
This piece, too, makes formidable demands on the unaccompanied chorus: the increasingly frenetic parallel melodic lines bring numerous rhythmical and pitching difficulties and the Sanskrit chants often include quarter-tones. The piece ends strikingly: following the climax, at which two separate sets of parallel lines from the men and the women collide, the whole choir sings a downward glissando ‘only approximately synchronized’, then ‘audible breath sounds’. Finally, the basses are required to produce a bottom A—this pitch, lower than what is normally considered manageable in the West, results, according to Harvey’s directions, from ‘sing[ing] the upper A, then allow[ing] the throat to relax so that the voice falls an octave’. This striking coup, suddenly expanding the parameters of the work, is the sort of effect that Harvey produces elsewhere with electronics—its introduction here demonstrates how his work in the studio informs his writing for traditional forces, as well as vice versa.
from notes by Michael Downes © 2011