Enjoy sound journeys commissioned by Opera North

Walking Home is a series of five sound journeys by five different artists that have been commissioned by Opera North. The pieces have been composed and recorded by musicians during lockdown. The sound journeys incorporate a variety of different musical styles, including jazz, folk, Middle Eastern, classical and contemporary.

Interestingly, the work has been created specifically to be listened to on headphones to encourage people to listen while walking. Each piece has been made with a particular place or time in mind, so they’re ideal pieces of music to listen to while exploring.

The sound journeys will be broadcast as part of BBC Arts and Arts Council England’s Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Jonty Claypole, Director of BBC Arts said “BBC Arts has been working with artists and arts organisations throughout lockdown to ensure their work reaches a UK wide audience during this challenging time. These new commissions display a wealth of creative vision, expressing many of the emotions provoked by lockdown: anxiety and loneliness as well as love and joy. I am overwhelmed by the brilliance of what the artists have achieved, many of whom are more used to making work in theatres and live spaces, adapting their craft to tell their stories in a new way.”

South African cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe’s piece is intended to accompany a walk at the end of the day. “I’ve enjoyed the different soundscapes as I walk out, thinking about the light in the sky, and how everything glimmers in a very different way”, he says. “The title comes from a Zulu saying meaning ‘Hold the sun, so it may not set’. In this piece of music the phrase takes on a new meaning and becomes a way to soothe your worries towards the end of the day: we often over-fill our day and feel overwhelmed, but instead we can live and work by embracing our instincts and knowing when we have done enough, or when there is a need for change.”

Born and raised in Damascus, Maya Youssef is a virtuoso of the qanun, the Arabic zither. “When I was approached to take part in Walking Home, the first thing that came to my mind was walking in nature, and the different lines of thought and feelings that stream through me. Because of that, there are different voices in this piece, all of which the qanun performs. I’ve never worked like that before, so it was a very interesting process. I know a lot of people are going through a lot of grief at the moment, and I wanted this music to give them a whisper of hope.”

Syrian-born Iraqi oud player and composer Khyam Allami’s sound walk, Al-Mayasan, takes a cinematic approach to the unsettling atmosphere of urban spaces in the Covid-era. “I’ve spent the entirety of the lockdown alone in Berlin, and through it I’ve learned that we tend to forget how much our day to day interactions with people allow us to have a different perspective on what we do and how we think. I would like to encourage listeners to consider who you can see around you, and consider the environment that you’re experiencing, through the perspective of one of the other people that you have seen or encountered, on this short journey with me.”

Accordionist, composer, and one-third of exploratory folk band Lau, Martin Green brings together field recordings, dialogue and the trumpet and tenor horn of Laura Jurd on his mini-opus A Place of Crisps and Pianos. “I’d been getting up earlier and earlier and really enjoying that special period when it feels like there are very few people awake. I recorded a few walks at sunrise, one with my daughter, and the snippets of conversation that got caught became the starting point. I’d been yearning for ensemble music and I’d been very keen to find a project to do with Laura for a while – and the sound of the sun makes me think of brass”.

Vocalist, violinist and pianist Alice Zawadzki’s My Boy of the Birds is written for “that very special time of day that’s neither nighttime or daytime, that strange liminal, luminous place where the birds are singing and we’re on the precipice of something new. The piece reflects all of the changes that we navigate with people close to us. There’s a tension between two keys, but there’s also a gentle pulsing all the way through which doesn’t change, and I suppose that’s the thing that you hold on to, a kind of rudder in these weird seas! I really hope that anybody listening to it will find beauty and consolation in it.”

All five works will be available for download from the Opera North website, to be experienced wherever and whenever the listener chooses. The sound walks will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC 6 Music over the coming weeks.

Photograph credited to Tim Dunk

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