Into the Dark: for mezzo-soprano, piano and electronics

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


Musical Composition on the subject of consciousness
Written as part of Wellcome Trust funded project 'AWAKE'

Into the Dark for soprano, piano and electronics
Written as part of AWAKE,
Welcome Trust funded project
First performances: British Society of Medicine, Oxford Science Festival

Underpinning Research
The work is a monodrama, musically enacting an imagined scenario of what it is to be ‘awake’ under anaesthesia. More particularly, it imagines this as a kind of journey, passing through different levels of consciousness, from before the start of an operation, through the giving of anaesthetics, into different chambers of awareness and back to the ‘surface’. It is a work rooted in science and scientific enquiry, but which lifts off into the realm of artistic imagination.

The research questions posed here point outwards – to do with science-art relations; and inwards – to do with the investigation of sonic and culturally various materials and their usage to depict, evoke and express this specific subject but also more generally.

Externally-speaking the project asks: how can works of art most keenly heighten awareness of, and give voice to, scientific endeavour? How, and to what degree, can art and science exchange ideas and information? Can a work of art go further than reflect and embody scientific enquiry but actually to a degree influence its findings? Can such exchanges help to break down the popularly perceived stereotypes of science as all ‘objective’ and art all ‘subjective’?

The internal orbit of research here is most focussed upon the definition of ‘musical colour’ and how colour can be used to create and heighten expression. The work explores the notion of an ‘archaeology’ of colour, as the central vocal line is wrapped around by intricacies of piano writing, in turn magnified and cut across by electronically produced sound auras and shards. A crucial third element, which dramatizes the notion of entering different spaces of consciousness, is the introduction of an element outside the sound-world of Western classical music. Specifically, how can the striking and stroking of a Buddhist temple bowl carry the listener into spaces which ‘awaken’ him/her to new perceptions of what consciousness is? Generalising out from this, to what extent can the ‘extraneous’ be used to shock and stir to lift and change perception?

An indicator of the last of these, but also profoundly reflective of the science-art interface that this piece investigates, came during one of the showings of the work. An audience member reported that her memory of experience, previously submerged, had been directly triggered by her hearing the piece. Her subjective reaction to artistic practice becomes, then, part of significant objective scientific data.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • music
  • consciousness
  • sonority


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