The Laughter of Mermaids (1990) Andrew Ford
For six amplified voices on words by Maria Blakey
'Maria Blakey's principal text for this work is supplemented by ten subsidiary texts by the same
writer. These grow out of the original, amplifying it and elaborating upon it. The Laughter of
Mermaids is a multi-voiced work, but as with other examples of the genre - Virginia Woolf's
The Waves, Carter's string quartets or Berio's A-Ronne - there is a sense in which the individual
voices are different aspects of one voice.
I asked Maria to provide a text in which there was mercurial quality about voice, point of view,
tone etc. The necessary disparate text which resulted then required some unifying musical element.
A line in the second draft of the text sparked the idea of employing a ground bass: "Remember me",
immediately suggestive of Dido's lament "When I am laid in earth".
I took Purcell's ground bass and reworked ¡t until it became something entirely different. lt is
at this point that The Laughter of Mermaids starts. As the piece progresses, the ground (often
merely a harmonic field) slowly becomes the original Purcell, finally croaked out on the last
page of the score by the bass voice.