LCMF 2018: A Sound Map of the Hudson River

I wasn’t prepared, when I walked in to the installation of Annea Lockwood’s A Sound Map of the Hudson River (1982) at LCMF, for how familiar it would be. After all, this is a giant field recording of the most ambient, neutral of all sounds, running water; as ordinary and as ignorable as traffic noise. Yet as I stepped into the vast concrete cavern that is Ambika P3, I had a visceral hit of familiarity, of knowing, of orientation. This was, I realised, a real object, with a weight and form and identity of its own.


A Sound Map of the Hudson River is the first of three such portraits (others are of the Danube and the Housatonic), and is related to Lockwood’s larger River Archive project, begun in the 1960s. To create the work Lockwood recorded the river in stages, moving downstream. She took recordings from the bank, at points that she deemed sonically interesting and that fit an overall sequence of contrasts and movements. The piece was thus recorded compositionally, with a final sound and structure in mind, rather than objectively; Lockwood rejected locations, for example, if they were too close to roads or presented too little of sonic interest. Once the recordings were completed, Lockwood compiled them into a montage sequence, stitched together with slow fade-ins and fade-outs. The completed work is presented with a map of the river annotated with the location, date, and time of each recording and at what point in the work they can be heard. A set of headsets also play interviews with people who live and work on the river: a fisherman, a judge, a park ranger, a farmer, an activist and a river pilot.

Its materials are so slight, so neutral, so ambient and unadorned, as to be almost not there at all. In this sense, it is a masterpiece of presence: it is so utterly present as a work in spite of that neutrality. And that goes even more as what is here and what is there is folded over and over the longer one listens. The Hudson is here; we are here on the Hudson; we are there on the map (in time now, measured by a clock on the wall; a slice of time then, Lockwood in 1982 standing by the  water’s edge); we are here in this tiny locale, the river zoomed in to a few inches around a single microphone, projected around us across a 40-foot circle of speakers.


Almost until the end, the recordings are taken from the water’s edge: border spaces, the ribbon between this and that. The work’s focus is on touching and close sensation, not the generalised power of the river. Intimate. More interesting sonically as a result. But also more unexpected.

Rarely, even in the piece’s later stages, is the Hudson recorded as a source of power or mass. Recordings always made at the river’s edge, lapping, bubbling, the elemental mix of earth and water and air. The river is conceived less as a thing in itself than as a space around which things happen: the map is not of the river so much; the map is the river. This perspective is heightened by the addition of interviews with some of those who live and work on the river. I listened to a river pilot describe the challenges of bringing tankers, 100,000 tonnes in weight, onto the piers in New York: yet despite the huge forces involved even this was a tale of precise movements made under almost no engine at all, trusting to the silent pull of the river’s tides and currents.


Prometeo – the reviews

Mixed responses to the UK première of Nono’s Prometeo, given twice at the Festival Hall over the weekend.


Geoffrey Norris, Telegraph:

While some words are distinct, the greater part of Massimo Cacciari’s text is separated out into its component vowels and consonants.

They become just another source of sound, mixed in with the instrumentals and electronics in a score that can range from quiet miasmas and gurglings to full brass blasts, from vocal purity redolent of the Renaissance to a tangled web of augmented fourths and major sevenths, from aggressive discord to the sort of soft ambient music commercially available on CDs fostering relaxation.

Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Just occasionally, the teetering, trembling sounds break out into massive climaxes, a reminder that Nono, for all his uncompromising modernism, was a Venetian, an heir to the spatial experiments of Monteverdi and the Gabrielis.

I disagree with much of the sentiment of Norris’s review – “innocuous aural massage” my arse! – but Clements’s really perplexes me. His reference to “a slow unvaried unfolding” doesn’t tally with my experience at all. Sure, there are points of continuity, even reuse of the same materials, but the variety between each of the 11 sections is very distinct and, I would suggest, gives the piece a much greater linear shape than it is otherwise credited with. His line above also surprises me, as it seems to suggest that the Venetian connection (found in a certain spatial aspect) is something of an afterthought, rather than the poetic core of the entire piece!

Hilary Finch – Times:

The Festival Hall, of all Prometeo’s venues, must be the most abstract, providing no evocative atmosphere except, perhaps, that of a recording studio. So Prometeo had to stand alone; and at times it seemed more like a work of modernist reference than an overwhelming emotional experience. But, on coming out into a London Saturday night, it was palpably clear that any work that can resensitise and refocus the human spirit, presenting listening as understanding rather than as distraction, can’t be all bad.

Fiona Maddocks, Evening Standard:

Better than any illegal substance, Prometeo sends you into a waking trance, though the sound of dropped programmes suggested the experience induced sleep in others. Only a few sceptics walked out, thinking no doubt that the naked emperor of Modernism was back in town. I’m still in two minds but this was an unmissable event, brilliantly brought off.

Andrew Clark – Financial Times:

[T]he Southbank Centre was right to stage this overdue UK premiere, if only to show how unrealistic modernism had become by the time Nono completed his “theatre of sounds” in 1984-85. He was an idealist. Even if Prometeo is musically too thin to sustain the weight of theory and ideas motivating it, you have to admire the purity of Nono’s artistic/aesthetic quest, something today’s composers, dogged by the demands of consumer accessibility, are not allowed even to contemplate.

Paul Driver, Sunday Times:

There are no sops to the merely curious: no hypnotic beauty, such as a comparably prolonged and austere work by Morton Feldman would offer; no dramatisation of divergent time-streams, as in Stockhausen’s Gruppen, with its three conductors. You are clearly meant to give your all to the piece – and the large (second-night) audience was amazingly attentive – but, for me, this study in listening was not so much a luminous personal transport as a reminder of dictation exercises in school music lessons. There was plenty of time to pick out intervals. Lots of bare ecclesiastical fifths.

Anthony Holden, Observer:

Over two-and-a-half unbroken hours, Nono’s into-his-beard musings purred by with the occasional rumble, as listeners meditated, zoned out or allowed their heads to fall. On the outer edges of audibility much of the time, it occasionally raised those heads with a titanic climax reverberating around the hall. Under Diego Masson and Patrick Bailey, the London Sinfonietta and the Royal Academy of Music’s Manson Ensemble, plus Synergy Vocals and sundry soloists, reminded us that, if Prometheus was Western civilisation’s first rebel, Nono was his appropriate 20th-century heir.

Bayan Northcott, Independent:

[T]he effort was to hold on to, to make sense of a music that seemingly refused to lead the ear, to accumulate, to achieve any sense of climax or closure.

And yet, through the work’s disparate sounds there was a kind of austere continuity to be discerned. As the entire structure finally resolved on a bare fifth, one had the touching sense of Nono making his peace with the great European musical heritage he had spent so much of his career questioning and trying to revolutionise.

Blogs and online


The combination of such instrumental composition, voices, and the all-important spatial dimension – not just the placing of instrumentalists and voices, but also that of the twenty-seven speakers, to be understood not as agents of amplification but as points at which music could take place – inevitably brought to mind the great Venetian polychoral works of the past. St Mark’s, in a sense, was brought to the South Bank and transformed. But equally so was Venice itself, or at least the Venice of Nono’s understanding … . The twists and turns, the lapping of the waves, the transfer between East and West were voiced; indeed, the interchanges, and landscapes of Venetian, European, and world history were present throughout this retelling of the Prometheus myth. Moreover, the words, a fascinating assemblage from Massimo Cacciari, are far more readily audible than many commentators – have they actually been listening? – would have one believe.


Deprived of the option to look at the performers or to understand how the sound was being produced, obliged to sit still for over 2 hours and hemmed in on all sides by sound, I found it hard also to understand how the work exemplified democracy or freedom. Perhaps it’s simply a case of unreasonably raised expectations, but it all seemed like just another pleasant Friday night out.

Simon Thomas, MusicOMH:

We are told that hearing Prometeo is a deeply personal experience. Describing it can therefore only be subjective and any one response is as valid as another. Those transported to another plane are just experiencing it in a different way from the people, and there were a number, who found they had to leave the auditorium before the performance was over. Nono certainly pushes the observer to the limit. Two hours and 20 minutes, without interval, is a long time when the promised plateau of serenity doesn’t appear.

Anne Ozorio, Seen and Heard (reprinted in Opera Today):

Much is made of Nono’s use of space. Again though, spatial arrangements aren’t an aim in themselves, but integral to the meaning of the piece. Nono is reminding us that sound is ambient, it comes from all around. It is up to us to process, from whatever position we may be in at any given time. This too subverts the conventional notion of music as a commodity to be consumed passively. Prometeo subverts the very idea that what we hear should be fixed in any given form. Rather it makes us realise that what we hear comes from one perspective among many. The four compact orchestras are placed in different places around wherever the performance is held. Each performance will differ according to where it takes place. There’s always an element of spontaneity, of using resources where they are found so there’s no “definitive” setting. On this occasion, the Royal Box provided an excellent place to position the string unit, between the main orchestra in the front, back and side. Other boxes were used for the euphonium, for the glass instruments, for the voices. These days when most of us get our music through recording, it’s easy to forget that recordings are only snapshots in time, frozen forever by mechanical means. Music, in the real world, is something far more alive and fluid.

Notes from a Defeatist:

Nono is classed as one of those nasty modernists we’re all supposed to reject these days in favour of Golijov. But what’s striking is that this music (as well as being far more immediate than the anti-modernists would have you believe) doesn’t sound “modern” at all. It sounds extraordinarily, immensely ancient. We leave the hall at the end, and to return to the bustle of London after this feels like returning from a journey to an unimaginably distant world, perhaps even time. The world seems too fast. Nono gives our thoughts space to breathe. And time.

There’s so much more to be said, and yet also nothing. I go about my day as before. But behind it somewhere there’s the memory of this other place, and it’ll be a while before it’s absorbed. it’s all a matter of time.

Stephen Graham, Musical Criticism:

Prometeo rarely rises above a whisper (though it does so to great effect on a number of occasions), and it very often returns to bare and beautiful forms of the three most basic intervals of Western music, the octave, fifth, and fourth. These are frequently contrasted both by dense chromaticism and by very slight decays (such as the overlaying of a fifth at the semitone above or below). But the abiding effect of the tones of the work is one of tonal-serial simplicity. This effect is enriched by Nono’s unsurpassed ear for colour, which in this work is always shown to be alive to unique combinations and doublings between wind, brass and strings, and his decision to include no percussion highlights the revolutionary rhetorical aspect of the piece. This rhetoric of silence and delicate concentration is broken only very rarely, such as in the tumults of the Hölderlin section, and in these moments the performers negotiated arresting dynamic fissures that resonated long after they had ceased.

Ben.H, Boring Like a Drill:

The action, for want of a better word, occurs in the movement of sound around the space. That first performance in Venice took place in the deconsecrated church of San Lorenzo. The London performance was in Royal Festival Hall, surely the least atmospheric and most clinical environment in which Prometeo has yet been performed. The location, and absence of extraneous sound, must have had an effect upon the experience.

Richard Pinnell, Learning to Listen:

I am rarely shocked to hear an arrangement of musicians sound quite different to how they appear on a CD. With this performance of Prometeo however, the added detail and depth within the room made this a completely different experience of what is essentially a fully composed piece of music. Even little things like hearing the work right the way through (rather than the forced break that happens on both CD versions as Prometeo will not fit onto a single disc) was a strange experience. The nine parts of the work felt like they belonged together here, as opposed to different tracks on album as I have subconsciously considered them in the past. There could be no getting up to make a cup of tea halfway through, there were no intervals, no coming up for air. An overwhelming experience that has made me stop and rethink my opinion of what is possible in a live music performance.

My own (somewhat muddled) thoughts are at Musical Pointers.

Prog is hip again – and so is plagiarism

Compare and contrast:

Rush, Wembley Arena, Guardian Unlimited (12 October 2007)

Prog rock is hip again, apparently, although “hip” is not how you would describe the masses of white, middle-aged men gathered here tonight. But who’s to say they aren’t? Balding pates and comfort-fit jeans could have become the very pinnacle of fashion and then fallen from favour in the time it took for this concert to run its course, and we would have been none the wiser. Rush play for a very, very long time. This is due in no small part to the fact that the ageing Canadian trio are essentially their own support act. They play two full concert-length sets, with an intermission, presumably to give you the chance to phone relatives and loved ones worried about your extended absence.

Marillion, Academy 1,  Manchester Evening News (3 December 2007)

THE progressive rock genre is gradually becoming hip again, although “hip” is not how you would describe the hordes of white, middle-aged men gathered here tonight. But who’s to say they aren’t hip? Balding pates, comfort-fit jeans and beer bellies could become the very pinnacle of fashion in 2008.

Aylesbury’s finest prog-rockers, Marillion play for a very long time. This is due in no small part to the fact that the group are essentially their own support act. They play two sets, with an intermission, presumably to give you the chance to phone relatives and loved ones worried about your extended absence.