Composer and Live Music Sculpture founder Samuel Bordoli, tells us about his inspiration for The Planets 2018
The idea for The Planets 2018 grew out of my Live Music Sculpture series – four site-specific creations for live musicians placed spatially around unusual architectural landmarks, including Tower Bridge, GLA City Hall and The Monument.
I have always loved visiting planetariums and wanted to combine the thrill of exploring our solar system with site-specific music in these unique spaces. The opportunity of surrounding an audience with sound on all sides while visuals filled their peripheral vision was particularly tantalising.
A string quartet seemed like the most natural ensemble for this project. It would be capable of working within the intimate space and lend itself well to quadraphonic placement. Its ability to achieve unity as well as diversity in tone and texture would also be important in a dry acoustic. I approached the Ligeti Quartet, who are renowned for their pioneering approach to new music. They loved the idea and came on board.
I realised that we were approaching the centenary of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. The threads seemed to come together – this would be a 21st Century Planets Suite, this time shared by eight composers each taking on a different planet. The composers would team up with a scientist to learn about the latest planetary research and incorporate this into their music.
I wanted The Planets 2018 to not only reveal the scientific developments of the last one hundred years, but also the musical changes. Holst was inspired by astrology – the contemporary composers would be influenced by astronomy. In the years that science has progressed, composers have been influenced by changing tastes, technologies and techniques. The project would tour around the UK to different planetariums accompanied by live visuals, taking audiences on a unique tour of the solar system, illuminated by music and science.
The scale of the idea needed an experienced and passionate producer to bring it to life. I was delighted when Sound UK came on board and brought their knowledge and creativity to the project. Together we commissioned Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Deborah Pritchard, Laurence Crane, Mira Calix, Richard Bullen, Shiva Feshareki and Yazz Ahmed to take on a planet – all renowned for pushing boundaries and being as varied in musical voice as the planets are in geological form.
I was inspired to take on the planet Uranus after visiting the Herschel Museum in Bath where it was discovered in 1781. I enjoyed being in the garden where it was first glimpsed through a telescope and standing on the damaged stones of Herschel’s workshop floor where molten metal had been spilled as he manufactured the lenses with his sister and fellow astronomer Caroline. It was fun to note that William Herschel was also a composer!
Guiding me during the process was David A. Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences, whose encyclopaedic knowledge has been invaluable. It turns out Uranus is a fascinating planet because its rotation around the axis is tilted on its side. David described the extraordinary effect this would have on sunrise and sunset – essentially 42 earth years of a pale sun slowly revolving in the sky, the circle getting wider until it disappeared under the horizon leading to another 42 years of twilight then darkness. This is the journey I have tried to communicate in the piece. It was quite a challenge converting 84 years into 5 minutes.
I hope audiences attending The Planets 2018 will be inspired when they experience the diversity of our solar system in the context of a wide range of music here on Earth. The questions raised by music and science remain bigger than all of us. This project is a humble glimpse of eight, highly personal responses to broader scientific discoveries about planets that undoubtedly influence us all. This is in no way the final say on the matter. We hope that another group of composers will do this again in 2118.
29 Sept - 2 Oct
The Planets 2018
London, Winchester, Bristol, (Birmingham SOLD OUT)
Image credit: Bill Bankes-Jones