Classically Yours – Premieres: January’s new music, Laura Bowler

Posted on January 18, 2019

‘The one aspect I’m very sure of was the sensation of being on another planet,’ says Laura Bowler of her recent visit to Antarctica. ‘It seems so alien because of the uniqueness of the landscape and its distance from the populated world.’ It was a commission for Manchester Camerata that saw Bowler (pictured) making the journey to Antarctica with the aim of recording sounds and footage. The resulting work offers an immersive experience based around the soundscapes of the continent, while exploring society’s destructive relationship with the planet.

(c) Brad Kratchovil

For such a seemingly empty continent, there was a lot to hear: Bowler describes ‘elephant seals roaring, penguin colonies chattering with seemingly never variety, Weddell seals offering up sweeping descending glissandi, many different bird species and their calls, humpback whales, Hourglass and Dusky dolphin calls.’ But the ice itself offered sounds of its own: ‘The ominous boom of ice collapsing and then splashing into the sea, brash ice crackling on the ocean surface and the popping of ice underneath the surface heard via a hydrophone and crunching of ice and snow underneath my boots on land. These are the sounds that truly captured the landscape of Antarctica for me.’

The sounds are being incorporated into the music both in their raw form and manipulated to create new textures. Bowler explains: ‘The brutality and fragility of some of the raw sounds provoke a listener to consider the nature of our impact on Antarctica’s climate as well as the rest of our planet, and this is something that I find particularly stimulating.’

As well as being a homage to the landscape, Antarctica is also inspired by Bowler’s composition teacher Peter Maxwell-Davies, who she describes as ‘generous, kind, provocative, fierce and full of vitality.’ She continues: ‘The violence and enhanced physicality in his approach to writing for the voice, and in turn the human body, is something I am still fascinated with as a composer and performer and is something that will be explored in my Antarctica work through both the instrumental and vocal writing to express the human race’s relationship to our environment. There may also be some sneaky references in there to Max’s own Antarctica Symphony.’

Bowler’s research into climate change (she read 30 books about the subject to understand different aspects of the discussion) has convinced her of the need to ‘challenge audiences to look outwards from themselves in order to question their responsibility.’ She explains: ‘Climate change is an extremely difficult area to communicate in this context – it’s a seemingly intangible and ethereal thing that is hard to grasp because of its overwhelming and vast nature, thus making it quite tricky for people to feel a personal attachment to the problem.’ But she has worked ensure that the work isn’t ‘pious’. She concludes: ‘I hope that I will find a way to communicate something that is challenging but not preaching.’


Laura Bowler Antarctica (Manchester Camerata, HOME, Manchester, 8pm)

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