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Phonurgia : instrumental sound theatre for solo viola or any stringed bowed instrument

by Caroline Wilkins (2008, this version: 2010)

Score Sample

View a sample of the score of this work

Audio Sample

Performance by Caroline Wilkins from the CD Selected works by AMC represented artists

Selected works by AMC represented artists


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Work Overview

The title takes its origin from 'Phonurgia Nova' by Athanasius Kircher published in 1673, a manual on methods of sound amplification using horns of different kinds.

Phonurgia is a work involving an essentially spatial distribution of various sound sources, whether diffused over loudspeakers, through a gramophone horn, or played on a live stringed instrument - in essence, a 'play' between live and virtual musicks. I use the term here to indicate the socio-historical role played by early sound reproducers such the gramophone, that came to replace live salon playing or musicking (as exemplified by the string player) but were still the focal point of social gatherings together with their predecessors: music machines. Indeed virtual musicks are present in Phonurgia, both in the form of shellac and digital recordings, the latter re-producing a recording made on the wax cylinder of a phonograph with all of its additional 'noise' retained. The only 'clean' virtual music to be heard is a digital recording played at the beginning of the work. In confronting vastly different playback methods with each other I am addressing contemporary expectations of sound quality, where increasing refinement and standardisation assume an underlying aesthetic. What is it that has been refined and what have we perhaps ignored in the process? Early recordings reveal an undisguised rawness in their sound. It is exactly this immediacy, this undeniable imperfection of a sound source that I wish to acknowledge: the 'body' or physicality of sound in space.

Work Details

Year: 2008, this version: 2010

Instrumentation: Any solo bowed string instrument belonging to the classical repertoire, gramophone with 2 different horns, 78 shellac disc of any solo classical music for the instrument, CD recording of any solo classical music for the stringed instrument, (to be chosen by the performer), 2 CD recordings of pre-recorded music and sound provided by the composer, quadrophonic playback, 2 CD players, mixing board. stage set: table, chair, 4 music stands, pile of shellac discs

Duration: 15 min.

Difficulty: Advanced — Performance skills in movement & voice needed. Technically difficult passages, experimental techniques of string playing, improvisation ability required.

Contents note: Prelude -- scene 1 -- scene II -- scene III -- scene IV -- scene V.

Dedication note: Dedicated to Aleksander Kolkowski

First performance: by Phil Owen — 10 Dec 10. Arnolfini, Bristol, UK.

Sound theatre, instrumental music theatre.


Phonurgia by Caroline Wilkins

'Phonurgia' is an instrumental theatre work for solo stringed instrument, gramophone, pre-recorded sound and lighting. This excerpt is from a workshop performance presentation at the Arnolfini, Bristol in December 2010. The violist is Phil Owen, the video recording by Rhiannon Chalonen.

Performances of this work

10 Dec 10: Arnolfini, Bristol, UK.. Featuring Phil Owen.

19 Aug 10: Private recording studio, Somerset, UK. Featuring Caroline Wilkins.

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