Kamiokande with London Sinfonietta

I’ve long been familiar with the work of photographer Andreas Gursky, and especially how his images capture a world that we recognise, on such a grand scale, frequently dystopian, unsettling, abstract and utterly unforgettable.

At present Gurksy is exhibiting his work at the newly refurbished Hayward Gallery in London, in his first major UK retrospective. In celebration of this, London Sinfonietta has been curating a series of nights of new music inspired by the photographs in the show. I’d previously worked with London Sinfonietta back in 2014 on our Ripples and Roots: Rushmoor Stories project, which you can download for free in full here

Given this opportunity to compose a piece of music to respond to one of his works I chose his Kamiokande photograph. This image is quite extraordinarily, so striking, and the sheer scale of it absolutely overwhelming. Until you notice the little shapes in the lower part of the image it takes a moment to recognise it’s actually technicians in boats on water. Kamiokande is an enormous tank of water in Japan, fitted out with phototubes buried deep underground. I read that only a handful of supernovas happen in our galaxy every century, super-energetic events that release neutrinos at the speed of light. So at Super-Kamiokande, as it’s known, in Japan, a computer system has been installed in order to monitor in real time and inform the scientific community of the arrival of these mysterious particles, which can offer crucial information on the collapse of stars and the formation of black holes.

It’s situated a kilometre underground, deep inside a Japanese mine, and curiously it’s a space about observing, awaiting change, something which makes me think of Gursky himself and his continual search for new visions to capture.

Looking at the image is so suggestive of sound. Sonically it suggests the sound of atoms colliding, the movement of bodies in water, the rush of science at a microscopic scale. A combination of the intimate and the epic, silence and noise.The work you will hear this evening is a response to this image and the space itself. It will move through various movements with the musicians, a combination of live instrumentation and electronics, hopefully offering up a piece that will engage and move people equally.

The premiere of this new work takes place on Wednesday 4 April at the Hayward Gallery London. Tickets can be reserved here

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