“Spectral” refers to the spirit-like auras of voices, birdsong, and natural phenomena inhabiting imagined lands, and to the concept of “spectral spatiality” — the impression of spaces and spaciousness created by sounds’ behaviours and motion within the audio spectrum. “Lands” emerge from the relations among spectral spatiality, the physical cohabitation of sounds and listeners in space, and the environments evoked by the real or imagined sources of sounds.
As I composed the piece I was recalling a recent visit to Golden Bay, in the north-west corner of the South Island of New Zealand — the long coastal sweep, the sounds in the native bush, and the blurring of differentiation, in certain lights, among skies, sea, and land. Particularly striking was the expansive beach at Wharariki, where winds travelling over undulating sand drifts soon cover up traces of human passage; mountainous, weathered rocky outcrops loom out of sand and sea, and confined resonant caves carved from centuries of sea swells, recede from the open sands. I was equally taken by landscape experiences in the Corbières in the south of France, where most of the piece was mixed. Amidst the sunny days, there can be dramatic skies, swift-moving cloud strata, noisy gusts and flows of wind, and if the rain suddenly descends, vibrant textural energies. However, Spectral Lands should not be considered a literal landscape portrait. The ambiguity of the sonic spectres is such that listeners are invited to construct their own images or narrative, while some may prefer to respond to the musical discourse in a more abstract way.
Spectral Lands was realized between 2010 and ’11 in the composer’s studios in Fabrezan (France) and London (England, UK), and premiered on November 23, 2011, in Phipps Concert Hall of the Creative Arts Building (now Phipps Hall of the Richard Steinitz Building) of the University of Huddersfield, during the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF). It was commissioned by the HCMF and the Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM) of the University of Huddersfield. Spectral Lands is dedicated to George, who lived alongside the sounds on a daily basis over many months, and who probably knows more than he might like to about where everything comes from and how it was all put together.
The present stereophonic Ambisonic recording was produced by Jonty Harrison in April 2018 in his studio in Birmingham (England, UK).