All things are quite silent
'All things are quite silent' is a composition based on the folk song by the same name. I first came across this folk song in Ralph Vaughan Williams and A .L. Lloyd's collection of English Folk Songs. This personal, heart wrenching song comes from a time of impressment in Britain, dating this song to sometime before 1835. Impressment was a kind of forced conscription enforced by press-gangs. From the late 17th Century through to 1835, when impressment had all but faded out (English Folk Songs, Williams, R), hundreds of thousands of eligible men were called upon to man the warships of Britain. This song is part of a wider wealth of personal stories and fiction that help paint ‘images of press gangs dragging husbands from weddings and people who have no experience of the sea’ (The Myth of the Press Gang, Dancy, J).
All things are quite silent, each mortal at rest,
When me and my true love lay snug in one nest,
When a bold set of ruffians broke into our cave,
And they forced my dear jewel to plough the salt wave.
I begged hard for my darling as I would for my life.
But they'd not listen to me although a fond wife,
Saying: The king must have sailors, to the seas he must go,
And they left me lamenting in sorrow and woe.
Through green fields and meadows we of times have walked,
And the fond recollections together have talked,
Where the lark and the blackbird so sweetly did sing,
And the lovely thrushes' voices made the valleys to ring.
Now although I'm forsaken, I won't be cast down.
Who knows but my true love some day may return
And will make me amends for my trouble and strife,
And me and my true love might live happy for life.
English Folk Songs; Vaughan Williams
Transforming the song’s original context and applying a rather more 21st Century filter to it, I decided to frame the piece in a post apocalyptic world. To aid this process I set the lyrics to one side, using them purely as a frame of reference and source material. I was able to leave the original tune unadulterated as the ambiguity of the Dorian mode lends itself really well to the disquieting atmosphere that I was creating. However, in fragmenting the original melody, I was able to create a new context for each part of the tune and thus able to weave my own narrative into the song. Throughout the composition process I held in my mind the following, slightly adjusted, narrative:
Someone trapped in a bunker waiting for a response from their lover who has gone out into the post-apocalyptic world that surrounds them. The cavernous reverberation of the otherwise empty bunker amplifies every clunk of metal and whirring of the ventilation system, reminding them of their partner’s absence. With each radio crackle hope blooms that they are out there reaching back. It is only through holding on to the idea that they will come back that they can go on.
This piece uses samples and recordings of instruments from my own collection, including: Piano, Guitar, Mandolin, Crotales and Glockenspiel. As well as these I was able to borrow a Motorola CP040 radio for the hisses and beeps.