Rivers Unseen is the first piece composed as part of my tenure as Artist-in-Residence at the Trinity Long Room Hub, and it was performed in October 2016 by soloists Michelle O’Rourke (voice) and Lina Andonovska (alto flute) with Tonnta choir, directed by Robbie Blake. Programme notes below.
Rivers Unseen is a new work for mezzo-soprano, alto flute and mixed choir. The piece is a response to three paths of research occurring within the walls of the Trinity Long Room Hub, as well as to the architecture and context of the building itself.
The common threads between the various influences from which this piece has grown relate to borders (and their transgression), visions and invisible movements. The first research that I engaged with was that of Deirdre Dunlevy, who is studying language policy at the borders of Galicia, the Basque country and Castilian Spain. I was entranced by the demarcation of linguistic boundaries, and whether these boundaries are porous or impermeable. The second research topic that I investigated was that of Nicole Volmering, whose PhD topic was on the various types of visions that occur in Early Christian manuscripts. I was particularly interested in visions of the afterlife, again considering the nature of the border between life and death and the possibility of its transgression.
Finally, I engaged with the work of Mary Stefanazzi, who is writing on the letter correspondence between Carl Jung and a Dominican priest (and psychoanalyst) named Victor White. What begins as a debate about Christianity and Jung’s understanding of the soul develops into a relationship of deep confidence, wherein each party analyses the dreams and visions of the other. I was entranced by a recurring theme in Jung’s dream relating to a ship that he has been given as a gift – “a new and beautiful craft” – his own small boat having been wrecked against rocks. The trope of Jung as captain of a sailing vessel recurs in the dreams of both men, who consider themselves to be on a dangerous journey. As the letters progress, the theme of death becomes entangled with that of the ship. White becomes chronically ill, and Jung’s musings focus on the limit point between life and death. The letters between Jung and White provided source material for the text of the piece.
Throughout the conception of this piece, I have been visited by an image of the Hub itself as a type of sailing vessel or ark. When I met one of the architects responsible for the Hub building, she spoke of how the building ‘floats’ above an underground river, and I became intrigued by the idea of different speeds of movement occurring at the various levels or plateaus of the building – like layers of rock. White writes to Jung that “we are indeed on an adventurous and dangerous journey” – meaning the inward journey towards better understanding of the self and the world. It was intriguing to sit in the “Ideas Space” of the Hub and consider at once the moving waters beneath me and the currents of thought being navigated by the scholars above. Rivers Unseen will endeavor to give the listener an intuitive awareness of the invisible movements, both figurative and literal, that are constantly passing through the many layers of the Hub.