journey to the17
with no takers i travel to derby alone to bear witness to the broadcasting of the17’s rendition of the score “repeat”. the train is packed, aisles sardined with people standing, abandoned passengers left on st pancras platform unable to board.
given the close proximately of fellow travelers i deem my current book “swung” unsuitable, over-the-shoulder reading is irresistible, and ewan morrison’s content may be misconstrued. it’s also not ideal for reading on the beach in swimming trunks.
i content myself with eavesdropping and the occasional head dip to catch glimpses of scrolling scenery. past the first stop, gliding through english countryside, and i am hit by a three second window of england’s patchwork fields bathed in summer. use of the word hit is deliberate for i’m shocked by the force of emotion it releases.
the last three weeks have been spent lolling on beaches and boat decks admiring majestic panoramas of lyceum mountains studded with rock tombs, technicolor sunsets and the sea so deep a hue you realise why that blue is named ultramarine. yet it brought none of the instant connection this brief flash of countryside engenders: feeling like a readybrek kid from the seventies advert, a warm fuzzy glow inside. this cannot be attributable to reminiscence having never lived in the country, my homescape is that of city blocks, neon and westways.
steven pinker asserts in “the language instinct” that unless a language is learnt within the first few years of life the vocabulary may be fluent but pronunciation never will be – those baby noises are hard-wiring the mother tongue’s sounds in place. perhaps this affinity with landscape is another form of mental hard-wiring the brain does on our behalf. storing away car and train trips to visit relatives, pre childhood memory, that later in life rise and plunge us unexpectedly into this sensation of homeland.
slightly overcome i milk the feeling by listening to epic45’s psychogeographic soundscapes for the remainder of the journey. speculating how traveling solo to a vague location leads to a slightly unusual mental state (and not knowing if the presence of non-17-choir interlopers will be appreciated). similar to being alone abroad on holiday, which engenders feelings of antonioni’s ‘passenger’… but without this unexpected immersion in the landscape.
what the luftwaffe missed, sixties town planners seemed to have finished, but derby town centre and the market square are more pleasant than the walk from the station. with a few hours to kill i reel off some shots of the marquee containing the AV equipment, what must be Drummond’s landrover betwixt the speaker stacks, and quad building staff garbed in 17 t-shirts and passes.
an attendant queries which slot i have been invited to, i explain that i’m a spectator not a choir member, and curiosity has brought me. i’m kindly invited into the opening, where i purchase a copy of “17” as safer reading matter for the return leg.
over the next two hours the square slowly starts to fill with choir members, their red invites flashing like secret society insignia. an atmosphere builds not quite like any other event; equal parts anticipation, curiosity and celebration. the arrow of attention points away from the stage to the milling disparate groups, unlike a traditional performance. it’s worth the trip i decide, to feel this strange edge in the air, regardless of wether it will sound like the post-modern “spem in alium” i have been imagining.
drummond climbs atop his landrover and introduces the piece, tells us to shut-up and listen. it plays for five minutes. he leads the crowd in a countdown from five to watch the sound file being deleted from the laptop, projected across a huge plasma screen.
of course having plowed through all this, what you really want to know is “what did it sound like…?”
the17 choir sounded like…
no, i’m not going to say. drummond’s point is that the performance or experience is time and site specific. i cheated and went to a public broadcast of it, but was entitled to listen by presence alone.
postscript: i recorded it on a minidisc player, but decided that i would prefer my memory’s version and deleted without listening. i have some great traffic sounds of market square in derby though if you’re interested. reading “17” on the way back, drummond uses the phrase psychogeographic music, tying the events of the day neatly together.