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VoxCarnyx reviews Sound Festival 2020

However quickly its necessarily online incarnation was assembled, there was plenty of evidence that the composers and players featured in this year’s Sound Festival from Aberdeen had thought deeply about the predicament in which they found themselves.

That was most immediately obvious is Ben Lunn’s profound Th’forst munth is th’wurst iv awl, a contemporary spoken-word oratorio in which the composer conducted a trio from the Red Note Ensemble and narrator Tayo Aluko appeared on screen above the musicians. The Nigerian actor was a compelling absent presence, even when he was not speaking, and the words he had to say, culled from the letters of political prisoners, made his every utterance essential listening.

Lunn’s selection of those will surely prove controversial if this work goes on to have the further performances it deserves. IRA hunger-strikers Bobby Sands and Patsy O’Hara sit alongside Ernst Toller and Antonio Gramsci and figures whose persecution is more contemporary. Their words are given proper musical treatment, and Aluko had some very precise cadences in his contribution, all scored to a highly listenable, but still demanding, mix of electronics and live instrumentation.

The three players, flautist Richard Craig, Jessica Beeston on viola and guitarist Sasha Savaloni, also had to turn their skills to intricate percussion as well as being experts on their own instruments. Lunn’s work is beautifully structured: nine movements in three groups of three, with an Overture and two Electronic Interludes, and it builds its smaller elements into an impressive edifice.

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