Written for the Folkestone Fringe 2014 and nominated for a British Composer Award.
I had only recently moved to Folkestone when Diane Dever approached me to ask if I would create a piece for the 2014 Festival of Sound Art. She requested something site-specific: firmly embedded into the fabric of the town and saturated in its ambience.
Folkestone's iconic harbour was an irresistible choice to centre the piece around: historic gateway to Europe, way station for travellers on the Orient Express, the final part of the country seen by soldiers heading out to war. At the time, the only place to visit on the west side of the harbour was the Cabin Cafe, it has now been gentrified beyond all recognition. Here could regularly be found a handful of fishermen, lorry drivers, and locals sheltering from the elements. The old hangers and port buildings, remnants of Folkestone’s tourist industry, had been washed away in preparation for the imminent redevelopment of the harbour: the calm before a new kind of storm. This feeling of being caught between two worlds drew me to the site. I wanted to air the hopes and fears people harboured about all the changes going on. I wanted to capture this state musically, thinking that living through a world in flux was a theme that would resonate universally.
To create the text for my piece I interviewed people with a close connection to the harbour. I talked at length with Gary (proprietor of the Cabin Cafe), a local boy who saw the harbour as his playground, a couple of cafe regulars, a lorry driver, the Harbour Master and the press officer for the harbour’s future developers. By placing their verbatim responses directly into the landscape of my composition, I hoped that my music would act as a kind of memory palace: a repository of vernacular thoughts, beliefs and opinions, all distorted through the funhouse mirrors of individual perception.
I talked to my interviewees in turn in the Cabin Cafe, where they each answered identical questions. This methodology allowed me to juxtapose the differing responses alongside each other in the music, counterpointing them to reveal the relativity of peoples’ perceptions. Prompting them with topics such as the history and the planned redevelopment of the harbour revealed curious differences, outright contradictions and unexpected synergies of opinion. I found that I was not only exploring the reactions of local people to changes at the harbour, but also examining wider issues concerning how people recall the past and confront the future.
The piece's structure and musical themes came to be determined by the responses of the interviewees. For example, a nostalgia for the harbour past, when a rotunda stood on the site, required a wistfulness and fairground gaiety to the music. Optimistic excitement about possible futures and positivity about what the harbour has still to offer inspired a rousing and uplifting finale.
This piece was created using the words of local people and performed by local musicians in the Cabin Cafe itself, which brought a pleasing resolution to the project.