Graeme Miller very kindly wrote a response to his visit to Great Chorus in 2011.
Approaching the work through the vertical colonnade of tree trunks the first tones of organ are fittingly reedy and woody and drift in a vague curtain of sound into the live presence of the forest. The translation by the artist of contributors’ head-songs and pet themes associated by the woods into organ music makes real sense in this context. It is a composition of compositions. It is also an acoustic arrangement with the place itself and as the viewer/listener enters the field of sound the spreading sound-image rewards them with a sense of having arrived in what amounts to an acoustic building – a simple room defined by four corners and churchified by its simple altar-like inhabitant – a harmonium. You are now inside and the live sound, play of wind and light perform live though the frame of sound.
Music has its own logic – a kind of autonomy and self reference that makes it a world in itself. It is hard not to sense that this world – apart from the social and personal meaning of its gathered tunes – is also a kind of forest in itself as its composition modulates through its own thickets and tangles into clearings. Compositionally the piece works and rewards the listener with careful collage where its component elements converge and diverge creating a whole in which the separate strands continue to have a melodic independence. Both art and music are successful by being worlds in themselves – it is what they do best and arguably must do. From there they may allude to the real world, reference it, source material from it. Great Chorus does this, yet this work is a reminder that nothing is context-free. This is a live situation. Music at the second it is heard becomes part of perception and interacts with the body and mind of the listener and the actuality of place and the flow of time.
This work demonstrates that even pre-recorded music performs itself. All music, whatever its internal logic, ends up as some sort of listening and its broadcast is a situation. From my mossy seat in the sonic chapel my attention shifted from immersive listening to filtered viewing as the actual presence of the woods – in real time, in real weather, asserted itself intermittently. The places in which this happened – most obviously in the silent windows built into the work, but also through the shifts of complexity and volume within the music created spaces clearly designed by artist for me. It is a work composed, made and realised to fit its context and to be something satisfying musically at the same time. All this is something quite hard to pull off and needs an understanding of different languages this delicate work manages to balance with real finesse.
Graeme Miller is an artist, theatre maker and composer. Emerging from the bold and influential stage work of Impact Theatre Co-operative in the 1980s, a group he co-founded, his own work now embraces a wide range of media. With the idea of being ‘a composer of many things that may include music’, he has made theatre, dance, installations and interventions. Often reflecting a sense of landscape and place, he regularly makes site-specific works to commission. You can read more about his work through the Arts Admin website. He presented Track alongside Great Chorus in the Fermynwoods Contemporary Art project Encounters.