In Song, you are hear the fragile voices of five historic instruments from the collection of the Bowes Museum. Kit Haigh presents these voices as an awakening conversation between old friends. Rather than a fixed composition, Song is an example of generative music; music that is ever-changing, created by a system.
Over time, the sampled notes of the instruments combine to form ever changing relationships, creating unexpected phrases and sometimes chords, never to be repeated. The sound of each of these instruments can be heard through an adjacent speaker. The title comes from a slip of manuscript found inside the Haxby square piano which had been there since it was built in 1794. It is simply called Song.
In Josephine Bowes’ home you would find music and merriment. The Revue Critique wrote of her 1860s gatherings of artists, intellectuals, and French society that 'the salons of Madame Bowes are counted among the most brilliant in Paris'.
“Like Josephine, I wanted Song to be joyful, yet offer the listener space in the music to reflect. This influenced my choice of notes and the pace of the work.”
The fragile instruments in The Bowes Museum's collection are between 150 and 300 years old. No longer played, the instruments fall out of tune. Four instruments in The Music Room were identified and the first step process of creating Song was to take digital field recordings. Key to ensuring the sounds taken from the instruments were of the highest quality and best tone, Kit worked alongside instrument technician and piano restorer, Aidan Delacy-Simms, with Bowes Museum conservation and curatorial staff also in attendance.
This process entailed two days of careful adjustment, repair and gentle pitch raising of each instrument. The goal was to get as many notes as possible on each of the four instruments working and producing a viable tone to record.
Once the instruments were prepared, Kit was able to take digital field recordings of the Waite Piano, Boradwood PianoForte, Bard Harpsichord, Haxby Square Piano and the Piano-cum-Harmonium originally commissioned by Josephne Bowes found on the first floor of the building.
“As a lifelong visitor to Bowes, I grasped the opportunity to hear the instruments that had silently intrigued me for many years, to share the recorded sounds with visitors by gently animating the room with music made from and inspired by them.”
Kit uses Song to explore the power of music and sound to transform our emotional perception of spaces. Often using found sounds from the space itself rather than conventional instruments, he creates truly site specific, generative pieces that are quickly familiar yet constantly changing.
The Creative Team
Composer / Sound Artist
Aidan Delacey-Simms, The Piano Workshop
Jason Thompson, Sound Ideas/The Bigger Picture
Rachel Horton, The Culture Vulture
Additional thanks to Matthew Reed, Director, The Bowes Centre.
I felt like I was able to retreat into my own head for a while and look out the window and just reflect – it was a bit like meditating and enabling yourself to be present in the room, in the moment to listen and take it. There aren’t many opportunities in my life at the moment, that allow for a period of contemplating and just stopping.
I felt very emotional; the idea of those instruments talking to each other again after period of enforced silence was emotional. Those instruments were getting to do what they had been made to do – sense of playfulness, showing off, freedom and reclaiming their voices.
Song launched in Jul 2019 and been enjoyed by around 100,000 visitors annually.
'Song' is a Bowes Centre legacy via #Untitled10 2018, now delivered as a gift to the Museum. Song was commissioned by @TheBowesCentre in association with The Bowes Museum with funding from Arts Council England and The Bowes Centre.