Daniel Elms releases CONSOLATIONS IN TRAVEL via Shadow World

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British composer Daniel Elms releases Consolations in Travel, his commission for the BBC Concert Orchestra that was premiered by the ensemble in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in February.

This year has also seen the revival of Elms’ British Film Institute commission Bethia, in celebration of the first decade of the PRS New Music Biennial; and the premiere of his visceral, inspired collaboration with choreographer Alexander Whitley, The Age of Spiritual Machines, as part of a Manchester Collective touring programme.

Consolations in Travel cements Elms’ standing as a distinctive and original voice in contemporary music, and extends his vision of a 21st-century orchestral music coloured, mediated, and expanded by technology. It is also, he says, “the first composition that has resulted from the work I've done in coming to terms with depression”.

The ‘Travel’ of the title refers ostensibly to the car journeys that Elms took with his mother throughout his childhood and adolescence, which he describes as “a good means of escaping certain difficulties” at home. These trips would be accompanied by compilations of music that he had recorded onto cassettes, with selections ranging from mid-90s goth and grunge to Fauré’s Requiem and other orchestral works: “I was really into alternative music”, he remembers, “but I was just beginning to take in ‘classical’ music as well, and open up to the kind of mental journeys that music on that scale can take you on.”

 

Short, looped excerpts from these cassettes are overlapped to form a textural bed for the orchestra in Consolations, with muted trumpets and sustained, slow vibrato in the strings mimicking the unstable pitch, or ‘wow and flutter’, of stretched tape: a musical rendering of the effects of time and use on the recording medium.

Towards the end, the violins take up a snatch of melody from the loops, played in tempo but out of sync to create what Elms describes as “a broken tonal sound; a cacophony”, hinting at “cycles of negative thinking”.

The strong sense of place in earlier works like Bethia – an atmospheric paean to his hometown of Hull complete with shrieking gulls and sea shanties – is eschewed in favour of a precarious psychological space that evades harmonic stability. Sampled hiss from the cassettes mingles seamlessly with live cymbals in waves of white noise.

Whether imitated by the orchestra or actually present underneath the live instruments, the cassettes leach a ghostly ferrous imprint throughout Consolations. Revisiting these physical artefacts of a formative time in his life and sensibilities, Elms finds them changed, and by trapping their essence so deftly within the work, he shows us ‘time future contained in time past’ and perhaps even gives a glimpse of ‘all time eternally present’. Reconciliation, if not resolution, comes in the bright dissipation of the final cloud of brass and reversed loops.

“Up to this point, my work had been about the interpretation of a subject, a literary work, or the coming to terms with a music influence,” Elms says. “Whereas this was something that was much more visceral, that came out of a series of emotions that I experienced at that age, and that have continued to influence me to this day”.

“After the concert performance, I was surprised to be approached by several people who expressed a resonance with the work and its themes. It’s interesting to me that the more personal and insular the work gets, the more it seems to appeal to others. I suppose I find the same in my own appreciation of music or writing: the things I enjoy the most will illuminate a particular thought or feeling that I may have had in the past, and there’s some sort of comfort – consolation – to be had in that sharing”