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The first and last tracks are around seven minutes long. They bracket four longer pieces, which in turn comprise a pair of childhood memoirs and a pair of pre-WW2 letters, one of each by each author.

My Father's Grocery Store is an anecdote from Sam Behrman's childhood presented by a speaking voice with musical backing -- a slow succession of detached chords rising to occasional outbursts at climactic points of the narrative. Watercress Well is a happier matching piece from Sassoon's memoirs. Each piece is about twelve minutes in duration but the second text is much shorter than the first and the instruments, acoustic and electronic, meander on afterwards in an improvisatory daydream [listen -- CD1 track 3, 3:20-4:42].

The Letter from S N Behrman, August 22, 1939 to Sassoon is newsy and gossipy but overshadowed by the threat of war. The Letter from Siegfried Sassoon, Sept 1, 1939 in response begins, 'Your letter arrived yesterday when there was still a faint hope.' The Second World War has begun. Both, like the two previous tracks, are read over a background of live electronics (distorted and delayed vocal sounds and purely electronic sounds) and instruments; but the tone is suitably darker.

The introduction to these four is a reading of a 'Statement Against the War' by Siegfried Sassoon (from Memoirs of an Infantry Officer) but the reading voice is distorted towards unintelligibility and the piece, therefore, tends towards pure mood-painting [listen -- CD1 track 1, 0:00-1:29].

Everyone Sang forms a coda to the cycle. Its instrumental introduction seems to promise an optimistic setting, but the vocal treatment is lugubrious and stagnant -- 'sung' only in that it is not spoken [listen -- CD1 track 6, 4:26-6:18].

The work as a whole has as much affinity with some of the trance/techno styles on the fringe of popular music as with the modernist art music from which it developed. The second disc illuminates its evolution.

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Copyright © 23 July 2006 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia


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