Philip Blackburn’s Ghostly Psalms

I hadn’t heard of Philip Blackburn until I found this recording online. Blackburn “was born in Cambridge, England, and studied music there as a Choral Scholar at Clare College (BA, MA). He earned his Ph.D. in Composition from the University of Iowa.” At some point, he relocated to Minnesota.

From his bio:

He is also a public artist specializing in sound — a composer/environmental sound-artist — and has served as teaching artist for school residencies connected with the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival, creating multi-media performances using home-made instruments. He composed the soundtrack for the Wild Music: Sounds and Songs of Life exhibition initiated by the Science Museum of Minnesota now traveling the nation. His Car Horn Fanfare for 8 ArtCars opened the Northern Spark Festival, and his Duluth Harbor Serenade was heard by thousands of people during Duluth Superior Pride. His concert work, Sonata Homophobia, for Flute and Brainwave-Triggered Right Wing Hate Speech was also premiered in Duluth. Blackburn’s works have been heard in ships’ harbors, state fairs, forests, and coming out of storm sewers, as well as in galleries and on concert stages. He has incorporated brainwave sensors and dowsing rods in performance as well as balloon flutes, car horns, smart phones, and wind-powered harps. He created a multi-media hyperopera about Cragmor Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Colorado Springs. That work, The Sun Palace became a 60-minute indie film that premiered at the New York’s Anthology Film Archives. His Prairie Pavilion for three Virtual Rhythmicons translated architectural proportions of a building at the Walker Art Center into sonic relationships.

About this work, Soundcloud describes it thus:

Blackburn’s Duluth Harbor Serenade is a giant soundscape composition for the entire sounding bodies of the busy port city on Lake Superior: bridge alarms, steam train whistles, boat and fog horns, bells, brakes, and sirens, not to mention a flash-mob band of dozens of local performers parading around with loud outdoor instruments. The site ultra-specific performance was heard over several miles, coordinated to celebrate the unique sonic signature of the place and re-orchestrate its elements into new textures and combinations.

Ghostly Psalms, a 50-minute live performance for large chorus, organ, and unusual instruments, is equally grand in scope, psychologically if not geographically. It transports the listener through stages of a dream, one that Blackburn had in 1982 that sprang from his days as a Cambridge chorister. Ruined abbeys, watery/windy streams of consciousness, and planetary motions feature prominently. The music is immersive and dense, intimate and cosmic, from vulnerably exposed solos to intensely orgasmic clusters. It’s as much a trip as a journey. Once again, it fills space, only this time in your head.

The songs are available on the Internet Archive. Perhaps they can add some spooky to your Halloween.

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