Composing from the sounds of nature, human speech and poetry

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ABOUT PETE WYER

Pete M. Wyer is a composer and musician from England with an interest in storytelling and innovation.  He has created scores for the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Juilliard, the orchestra of Welsh National Opera, The Crossing, BBC Television and the Royal Opera House as well as creating seven operas and music theatre works. 

Pete has received a number of international fellowships and a ‘Best Composer’ award for his orchestral score The Far Shore in 2011 at the Fringe Report Awards. The citation reads: “The award celebrates the glorious work of classical composer Pete Wyer across film, ballet, concert and opera including 57 Hours, Ga Sho, and Listening To The Sky. In particular it celebrates the extraordinary ballet A Far Shore (2010) recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra and originally commissioned for performance by English National Ballet & Shanghai Ballet. The award salutes an artist of outstanding creative and intellectual integrity.”

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I expected to leave BMC and go back to “normal” life as one does with artist residencies—but, in truth, I was never the same again. I spent September of 2013 at BMC fretting that I wasn’t doing the work I had come there to do. Instead of writing a harrowing true-story opera, I was mainly hiking, kayaking and being an ad hoc tai chi teacher. I found the Adirondacks unexpectedly and extraordinarily beautiful.

 

“And Death Shall Have No Dominion”

What I didn’t realize was that my work was completed in the first half hour. I set Dylan Thomas’s famous poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” to music on my first day before I started work on the opera. I literally put a print-out of the poem on the piano, sang it with some ad lib chords beneath, scribbled it down then set it all aside assuming it would need weeks of work if it was ever to be completed.

It was only after I returned to New York and then London that I understood that the little piece was ready to go…  I set it for a “synchronised headphone choir” who perform it via a specially created app on smartphones and tablets. It became part of three events: River to River, Make Music New York and Dylan Thomas 100.

See it and hear it performed across Manhattan here.

 

“Utowana”

BMC I think had helped me reconnect to nature, and perhaps to my own nature. I wrote an orchestral piece ‘Utowana’ inspired by my Kayak journeys on the lake next door to BMC.

Hear it here.

 

“The iForest”
I never really expected to return to BMC , it seemed such a long way from London life. Yet, amazingly, in 2015, Ben Strader introduced me to the people at the Wild Center, 45 minutes north of BMC and from there I began discussing with Director, Stephanie Ratcliffe, the possibilities of creating an immersive musical installation called the ‘iForest‘ on the property. I began returning the Adirondacks via little 8 seater plane flights from Boston. In 2016 we built a prototype and in 2017 it finally opened to the public in a permanent home at The Wild Center, receiving receiving 160,000 visitors and being described by Inside Hook Magazine as “Like hiking through Fantasia”.

Hear it here.

The work that currently plays in the iForest is called  “I Walk Towards Myself” and features a multi-track recording of The Crossing with each voice separately recorded, creating a 72 voice choir, singing in the indigenous Mohawk language. The iForest was also installed in Inwood Hill Park, Manhattan, as a part of Drums Along the Hudson in June 2018.

At least a further two new iForests are set to open over the next two years in LA and Pennsylvania. My hope is that iForest can invite and inspire people to a deeper experience of nature, benefit the environment-centered organizations who present it and also offer new possibilities for other sound and music creators.

 

“Song of the Human”

In 2016 I was commissioned by WNYC’s New Sounds Live to create Song of the Human as both an installation and concert work which was performed by The Crossing choir with an immersive soundscape at the Winter Garden, Manhattan.

The work is inspired by the fact that we use pitch, rhythm, tone and dynamic as part of our speech—or to put it another way: when we speak, we speak in music. Something rather wonderful happens when we remove words and listen only to that music; potentially divisive elements such as race, nationality, religion, gender all disappear. What we’re left with is what I calls the “Song of the Human.

Hear excerpts of the work here and here.

The music of language is so easily overlooked that exploring it can feel like encountering “human” as a new species. The reason it fascinates me is that in this song we get a glimpse of our ‘inwardness’, our inner nature. We might hear love, hope, playfulness, fear and other states of mind and emotion but whatever we find we find in all people. In what sometimes feel like divisive times, I find this a reassuring observation.”

A credible theory advanced by Professor Shigeru Miyagawa of MIT is that the “expressive” layer of human speech is evolved from birdsong (Charles Darwin seemed to believe the same). When I listen to the extraordinary virtuosity and intricacy of both birdsong and speech, I need no convincing.

In creating “Song of the Human” I wanted to consider the human as part of nature as well as the nature of being human, what we share in music when we abandon words. In order to do this the piece takes an unusual form: it is both an immersive sound installation that places speakers above, below and around the audience and a concert work featuring a choir performing with immersive sound in the space.

The work includes a forty minute choral score, first performed by The Crossing choir from Philadelphia with an immersive soundscape at Brookfield Place, Manhattan in 2016. It was broadcast as part of New Sounds Live on WNYC and was also installed in the 12th century tithe barn ‘Messum’s’ an art-space in Wiltshire, England, in 2017.

 

 

 

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