I’ve just returned from Anstruther in Fife Scotland where I presented the world premiere of Lost at Sea at the East Neuk Festival as part of their Big Project 2018. Following on the success of their Memorial Ground (2016) and De Profundis (2017) projects, I joined forces with pupils of Waid Academy in Anstruther to create a memorial in sound for men of the East Neuk fishing industry lost at sea. Over a period of six weeks I travelled to meet and work with the young people to create this immersive magical work.
Of course, such things don’t always flow as one might anticipate. Whilst testing out the haze machine in the morning, filling the hall with a misty atmosphere we accidentally set off the school fire alarm, with all the doors opening automatically and red warning lights on the ceiling flashing wildly. So it was immediately out to the carpark with over 800 pupils, teachers and staff and my production team looking rather sheepish. Apart from the occasional pupil who complained that this happened during their free period and not a maths lesson, it was all taken in very good spirits indeed.
After that the rehearsals ran very smoothly and the premiere at 18.00 was a resounding success. The work draws on the stories of the men out at sea, field recordings and interviews to evoke the men and their lives. Imagine a room saturated in low level blue light, with a dozen performers mapped around the space, casting vast shadows onto the wall, as the industrial sounds of the fishing industry build up around you, with engines growling and throbbing, winches thrashing about the deck, water pouring over the side. You are immersed within this world, far off shore, often for days on end, battling against the elements, all to make a living for your family.
Each of the pupils would read a name of a man lost at sea, followed by the name of his ship and the date, then write his name on a large sheet of paper on the floor, accompanied by my live score. In addition they played live instruments -horn, violin and viola and Tam-tam – along with my music in a beautifully elegant and minimal manner, single notes echoing out around the space.
I was touched by the reviews that followed, including a fabulous one in The Scotsman newspaper:
“Lost at Sea, essentially a sound installation by composer Scanner, was conceived as a tribute to the many men in the East Neuk fishing industry who lost their lives at sea, but given human voice in this premiere presentation in Waid Academy, Anstruther (****) by confident young musicians from the school. The concept was simple and unpretentious, with minimal symbolism, yet was all the more moving for that. The pulverising soundtrack was gnawing and evocative.”
If you happen to visit Anstruther there is also a version currently installed at the Scottish Fisheries Museum inside the wheelhouse of a shipping vessel. Given that it’s quite a trip to make for most to make though here’s a version for you to listen to and download this special memorial for free.
There is also a beautiful feature exploring the work written by Kate Molleson I recommend you take a read of too. Thanks to everyone who took part and helped make this happen!