Programme notes — audiobook extract #2

The Science Museum have released the second of three free audiobook extracts of Shackleton’s Man Goes South on their SoundCloud page. All of the audiobook extracts are framed by a short musical theme composed by Jamie Telford.

missorts_phone_simulationSharp-eyed readers will know that Jamie and I have worked together before. Most recently he composed eight amazing new works, the Portwall Preludes, especially for the 100-year-old Harrison and Harrison pipe organ in St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. I commissioned these works from Jamie to form the backdrop and accompaniment for Missorts, my permanent soundwork and GPS-triggered app for the Redcliffe area of Bristol which launched at the end of last year. The Preludes are geo-located to form a kind of musical patchwork that overlays the area of the app (delineated in lighter grey on this iPhone screen simulation) and through which the user/listener walks, cutting from one prelude to another as they do so, and creating their own mix in the process.

© 2012 Max McClure, courtesy Situations

© 2012 Max McClure, courtesy Situations

There is a fascinating short interview with Jamie about his role in Missorts in David Bickerstaff’s great new short documentary about the project, which has just been released by Situations. There he describes the Portwall Preludes as ‘programmatic’ — further explaining for the non-specialist (like me) that, ‘what I mean by programmatic is that they’ve got titles that suggest what the music may contain.’

Take a listen to Jamie’s beautiful, lilting and gloriously wonky ‘House of Mercy’ and you may begin to see what he means. Now imagine listening to ‘House of Mercy’ in situ, as you climb back up Guinea Street from Phoenix Wharf and the Ostrich pub, past the derelict Georgian and Victorian buildings of the former Bristol General Hospital, and the idea of it being programmatic really takes off: with Missorts, the ‘extra-musical material’ is not just supplied by the title, but also by the location.

For Shackleton’s Man Goes South, the brief was very different: a musical theme that could be used to both frame and to punctuate audiobook extracts from my novel. A piece that would never be heard in its entirety, only in part. An intro that would fade out at the beginning and an outro that would fade in at the end, and phrases of which might also provide short interludes throughout the reading of the text.

What emerged in our early conversations — as Jamie and I talked about the novel, and looked at some of the musical content and signposting within it — was that this theme might be a kind of Black Atlantic sea shanty, and one that responded to two particular musical works referenced in the novel: Leadbelly’s version of John Hardy, and a reconstruction of the satirical 17th Century English folk song The World Turned Upside Down. I hope that you like what Jamie has come up with (but be warned: it is ridiculously catchy). We felt that the oddly celebratory tone sat well with one of the ideas at the heart of the novel, that the Shackleton story has become a kind of Columbus myth for migrants to a new continent.

The lyrics of ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ are reproduced as part of my Shackleton’s Man Goes South display in the Science Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery, which is up until spring 2014. Here is one of the Museum’s installation shots.

Image: Science Museum

Image: Science Museum — click-through for higher resolution

And here, courtesy of the Science Museum, is the second of the free audiobook extracts from Shackleton’s Man Goes South. This is an extract from Chapter 4, ‘The Captain’s Table,’ in which ‘the complex and conflicted human trafficker Browning’ (as David Gullen puts it in his fantastic review) makes contact once again with Captain Smiler upon his and Emily’s arrival back in Patience Camp on the island of South Georgia:

Every mile or so there is a gate or a checkpoint, and here the alleys and paths of Patience Camp widen and the nature of its buildings appear to change. They seem to grow more substantial and to serve other purposes than the simple provision of shelter. It is as if this increased density of shops, bars and fast-food joints has been produced by some effect of the more concentrated traffic and the confined space, just as the sudden faster flow and pressure differential caused by the lifting of a sluice creates an eddying turbulence that traps whatever chaff and debris, leaf litter and styrofoam might be carried in the water. There are souvenir shops piled with T-shirts, and faded postcards bearing seemingly random images of countless cities, cathedrals, beaches, castles; a Babel of greetings. Forgotten celebrities of all nationalities and ages blindly stare from the racks as if waiting for some statistically ever more improbable moment of recognition when they will be snatched up by a member of whichever diaspora and revived, reanimated. More rudimentary stalls sell salvaged goods and bric-a-brac of dubious function and origin, servicing unlikely markets and unimaginable demand. There are vacant lots piled high with electrical and other components: motors, cabling, circuit boards. There are relics: here a box of broken calculators and there – trailing wires and hydraulics, partly covered by tarpaulins, bigger than their shelter and recognisable from illustrations in books – the best part of the flight deck of an airliner. A chandelier the size of a bell tent buckles under its own weight.

The Museum have enabled SoundCloud’s download function, so — as ever — feel free to download it and listen on your own device!