New Music for the Illuminated River Bridges: Millennium Bridge
Illuminated River have commissioned new music inspired by London, Cannon Street, Southwark and Millennium bridges from composers at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Blade of Light (Ode to the Millennium Bridge)
Widely considered a triumphant partnership of engineering and artistry, Millennium Bridge embodies a spirit of optimism and momentum that was present at the beginning of the 21st century. The bridge is also a cultural landmark for 21st Century British pop culture. Famously, the bridge was swarmed by Death Eaters in the Harry Potter franchise. It also seems like every single London-based espionage film has to include a shot of the Millennium Bridge to confirm the setting of contemporary London. Perhaps this is because of the bridge’s unabashed cultural representation of forward momentum and looking to the future. This momentum and energy is at the heart of my piece ‘Blade of Light’.
My ode to the bridge is inspired by its architectural shape, and how this presents a sense of momentum. Various structural elements of the bridge have been conceptually translated into a musical structure - for example, the bridge’s principle of ‘lateral suspension’ has been realised through suspending notes on top of elongated cadences to create a sense of building anticipation. The birds-eye contour of the bridge has inspired the dynamic energy of material, for example the rhythmic string parts.
Throughout the piece, each instrumental section of the orchestra maintains lateral momentum on a pitch, often phasing in and out of alignment with other sections, creating a sense of musical architecture and co-reliance between sections. The orchestra is underplayed with gradually building electronics, furthering a sense of contemporary London.
Notes From Our Youth
The Millennium Bridge poses many unique qualities, one of which is that it is the only bridge on the Thames to be built in this Millennium. It’s distinct, abstract design has captured the interest of people from around the world ever since its opening in 2000. Drawing an arrow straight line between two great cultural monuments of London, St. Pauls and the Tate Modern, it lets the old embrace the new, acting as physical unification between history and modernity. To me, the bridge, and the millennium project as a whole, celebrates and embodies an investment in the ‘new’.
‘We have not inherited the world from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children’: My concept is to write a piece that celebrates the Millennium Bridge as a voice of the ‘new’ or more literally, as a voice of London’s youth, letting the music provide them with a vessel through which they can express their voice. The piece is centred around the words of 4 poets, winners of the Barbican Young Poets Prize soloists. The writing intertwines orchestral ideas and harmonic blocs with harpsichord, making reference to the Millennium bridge’s heritage in line with St Pauls, and a real voice of our youth today. The poets words are both abstract and literal, making profound comments on the roles, emotions and ideas of our youth today. The poets can be heard in the second half of the piece speaking their words.
The Third Age
I chose to write my piece for the Millennium Bridge for a multitude of reasons. The most prominent was the stylistic choices that I could make based on the bridge’s aesthetic and symbolic nature. The Millennium Bridge opened in the year 2000, on the turn of the millennium, and so represents a new era of change something that is echoed in it’s metallic, postmodern architecture. The piece’s name is derived from this beginning of the third millennium. I intended my piece to invoke these themes of postmodernism and the increasing digitalism of the millennium in which we live. I wanted to combine the flowing of the river with the rigidity of the suspension bridge. I found this mildly satirical considering there was trouble when the bridge opened concerning a wobbling motion caused by pedestrians.
I was inspired by the works of musicians such as Oneohtrix Point Never, Four Tet and Jon Hopkins. Each of these artists capture the sentiment of the new millennium; of creativity and social progression. Most of my inspiration came from the dance music that these musicians produce. The Millennium bridge is the youngest to cross the Thames and supposes a youthfulness that I hoped to mirror in my piece.
Currents depicts the river Thames as it interacts with light –both artificial and natural– throughout different times of day. I present this as a bird’s eye view of the river, as seen from the Millennium walking bridge. The piece opens with the blinding reflection of the setting sun off of the river. As the sun wanes behind the horizon and it’s bright, direct light dies away and reveals the soft vibrancy of twilight, the details of the river’s surface begin to emerge. Finally, the sun’s light dies away completely and only the artificial light of the bridge remains, leaving a sterile, clear impression of the river’s surface. We begin to notice individual currents at any point between the two banks, each moving at its own individual speed. As the sheer number of currents becomes more apparent, we are able to see the vast torrent of water as a whole made up of a complex network of small parts. Finally, at its close, the sun rises, it’s bright, direct light once again overwhelming our senses and washing the river surface of its detail
The interweaving of different clear, yet somewhat musically neutral lines is reminiscent not only of the river surface but of the architecture of the Millennium bridge. Much like the bridge’s steel trusses and cables, each individual musical part seems to bear a neutral, functional role, beautiful and elegant in the complex interweaving pattern of their sum, but bearing little individual character or style. The piece consists of 3 minutes of music but can be looped perpetually, each repetition showing us another daily cycle of light. In this way, Currents reflects the constant and unchanging trundle of the river, regardless of time, lighting , or the scramble of urban life.
Given Leo Villareal’s interest in traditional painting styles, I have created a piece that is triadic, and that utilises traditional instruments coupled with contemporary production techniques.
For the orchestral recording session, I composed a set of sustained harmonic materials and created a text score that generated very short sounds in aleatoric rhythms. Once edited and imported into my studio I was able to explore every major and minor triad in a variety of ways. The samples were first arranged, collage-like, to create a harmonic structure that touches on every triad once. The audio was then digitally manipulated (stretched, contracted, filtered, distorted) to create the overall shape and momentary colour.
The piece has two distinct textural layers, loosely representing the river and the Leo Villareal’s monochromatic artwork for Millennium Bridge: steadily pulsing, breathing harmonies flow beneath pointillistic, staccato materials. Despite the piece being made entirely from samples of a live orchestra, the resultant soundworld is illusory. Instruments are layered in ways that would have been impossible with a live orchestra. There are dynamic contradictions – the very quiet can soar over the traditionally loud, acoustic materials are coloured through electronic processes, blurring the line between two worlds whilst spanning two shores.
Millennium Bridge straddles the Thames between two architectural giants: St. Pauls and the old Bankside Power Station (now Tate Modern). The two textural layers in the music, when considered together, describe something grand, solid and purposeful. They describe something inherently static but surrounded by energy and movement, a membrane at which the everyday time of people meets a deeper, slower time. My piece offers four minutes to contemplate the grandiosity of the natural and the manmade, the kinetic and the static, as brought together so powerfully at this stretch of the Thames.