'War and the Pity of War'
Gallery 118, Notting Hill, London, from 1st to 8th November 2009
To listen to the soundscape, 'War Distilled', click below (to download an mp3 of the Fourth Movement scroll down the page). A brief analysis of the composition follows.
WAR DISTILLED by Daniel Cioccoloni
I. First Movement (c. 0' 00'' - 9' 47")
As his brother Harold explained, Wilfred had grown up leading quite a sheltered life. It was this innocence that made his experience of the war all the more traumatic and his disillusionment so much greater. The composition opens with a very simple ensemble of prepared sounds. The initial soundscape is purposefully neutral, containing virtually no harmonic elements and consisting mainly of mid-range frequencies. A choral section (c. 2' 40") begins to unfold over this, a song of innocence, a representation of Wilfred Owen's world before the war. The first cadence (c. 3' 35"), however, foreshadows the dark and violent intrusion his personal realm of tranquility was to suffer. Not being a tonic cadence, the slightly jarring effect created reveals that these darker sonic elements illustrate a different world from the one the listener is currently experiencing. A simple, repeating two-note chromatic pattern is introduced (c. 5' 03"); the point of view has now shifted from Wilfred's personal world to the life of the soldiers in the trenches, the repetitive nature of the pattern broken by the sound of machinery and screams giving a sense of the interminable waiting punctuated by brief periods of sheer terror and agony. The choral elements of the previous section are re-introduced (c. 8' 05"), but they are now distorted and distant, more ominous than pleasant.
Throughout the second half of the first movement many disparate complex harmonic structures are introduced. Unrelated at this point, they have yet to develop dynamic relationships.
II. Second Movement (c. 9' 48'' - 16' 43")
The second movement introduces the first true chord-based harmonic structure, a simple two-chord sequence using the tonic (Em) and the diminished chord based on the VII degree of the scale. The interest arises not so much from the chord sequence itself, but from the constant micro-tonal fluctuations in harmony and secondary elements that introduce many chromatic variations. High above this structure, a melodic line (c. 12' 57") induces a sense of tranquility which is broken by the tolling of a bell (c. 13' 50"), making the mood more sombre and giving it a martial quality, and conceptually symbolising death and funeral bells. The increasing intensity of the sounds of war leads to the total disintegration of the melody; all that remains is a barren landscape.
III. Third Movement (c. 16' 44" - 30' 26")
The third movement emerges from the void left by the second with a harmonic structure that exponentially increases in complexity, in many ways the developing harmonic complexity as the movements progress being a journey from early tonal chant through to the cluster techniques of post-modern music. The work was specifically written for an exhibition inspired by Wilfred Owen's poetry, but deals with the theme of war in general, for due to his extraordinary ability to express his experiences in poetic form, coupled with his very young age, Owen has become a symbol for all young men who, throughout man's history, have experienced the horrors of war, and for this reason early compositional techniques have been juxtaposed with modern elements. Through the use of open, drawn-out and dissonant harmonies, this movement deals with the enormity of the horrors experienced by the men, and in particular by Wilfred Owen, who felt that he was fighting a personal battle against the War, the battle (both metaphorically and in a very real sense) between Man and War, the soldier not only struggling to preserve his humanity, but also, in practical terms, simply trying to stay alive.
After an extended portamenti section (c. 25' 57" - 29' 48") in which the sense of the vastness of what Wilfred, and all the soldiers, had to confront reaches its pinnacle, the music dies down, apparently ending ...
IV. Fourth movement (c. 30' 27" - end)
... All that is left is a heartbeat. The listener is in Wilfred's personal world of poetry, with its careful crafting of phrases and verses and the search for beauty amongst so much ugliness, the music attempts to represent sonically the world Owen created in reaction to the horrors he witnessed and experienced on a daily basis. The sound of writing, of pencil on paper, can be heard (31' 14") and a soundscape reminiscent of the first movement returns. Harmonically, however, the structure is much more complex and the result more poignant, and when the choral elements are re-introduced (33' 24") they seem to carry a completely new meaning.
Through a structure of evolving harmonies and sounds, the music describes a journey from an alienating perception of the outside world to terrifying and disturbing introspection and of Art as a form of emancipation from the shackles of human monstrosity. When the music ends the track keeps playing a while longer, the silence offers the listener space to reflect and is a symbol for the moment of silence, a gesture of respect to remember the sacrifice of countless men and women in times of war.