It’s that time of season where we like to feature each of our Special Projects so that you, the Make Music New York community, can have a better understanding of the many great ways to enjoy our music celebrations on Thursday, June 21st (mark your calendar!). Look for regular blog posts outlining events across neighborhoods and boroughs, featuring amazing and engaging musicians from the New York area.
This week, Make Music New York’s Executive Director, James Burke, spoke with composer Pete M. Wyer about 2018 Make Music New York’s special project “Twilight Chorus (for Humans).”
James Burke: Hi Pete! I’m thrilled to be presenting your latest special project “Twilight (for humans)” as part of this summer’s Make Music New York on June 21st. I know that you have worked with MMNY in the past as well. Can you share with our fans some of your history with the festival?
Pete Wyer: In 2014 I created a setting of Dylan Thomas’s poem ”And Death Shall Have No Dominion” for a headphoned choir. The idea was that singers would each have a specially created app which synchronized their device to an atomic clock and at exactly 11.00am on June 21st it would start playing a backing track from which singers could choose soprano, alto, tenor or bass parts or play along with an instruments. People began singing wherever they were in New York City and began walking converging routes to an assembly point at Rockefeller Park. So a soprano walking down one street might find she was in sync and in harmony with a tenor in the next street. It started out as individuals and small groups and ended up with a full choir and band, at which time everyone took off their headphones and all sang together.
JB: Back to “Twilight Chorus (for Humans),” can you explain the program for our followers and speak to the inspiration behind the concept?
Pete: I have always been strongly influenced by birdsong at dawn and at dusk. Not only the sound, but the spatiality as well. It’s an incredible experience in spring to walk through parkland or woodland at dawn and listen to the ever shifting kaleidoscope of sound as you move. In my native England, this is mostly blackbirds, robins, chaffinches, goldfinches, wrens, song thrushes and in more recent times, parakeets.
In 2016 I made a piece for WNYC’s ”New Sounds Live” at the Winter Garden which was inspired by MIT Professor Shigeru Miyagawa’s hypothesis that human speech is evolved from birdsong. In that piece, entitled ”Song of the Human,” I used the pitch, rhythm, tone and dynamic of human speech as a start point. With ”Twilight Chorus (for Humans),” I have taken recordings of birdsong, slowed them down and transcribed them for singers. During the performance, the singers will be dispersed across an area of Brooklyn Botanical Garden, again synchronized via an app. The audience are invited to experience the piece by moving between the voices – there is no single version of the piece and each person’s experience will be unique to them. The piece slowly evolves and brings the singers together at the end with more identifiably ”human” music.
JB: How can Make Music New York fans enjoy the program and what should they expect?
Pete: The piece will be a unique experience for performers and spectators alike. It begins with sixteen singers spread out, singing simultaneous solos that are transcribed from birdsong. That’s a long way from a Bach chorale! But it ends in a more intimate place with singers gathered together. I always hope my pieces in some way move people toward a deeper connection to each other and to nature. And if it makes them smile or touches them in some way, I’m happy.