John Young


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The initial idea for this piece came from a recording of the Duomo bell in the Italian town of Forlì. I made the recording to use as one of the core materials in a radiophonic work, Ricordiamo Forlì (2005), which narrates the experience of my Italian family in the Second World War. In that piece many of the bell sounds were reshaped using electroacoustic techniques, bringing out new colours and qualities otherwise hidden in the overall sonic impression of a recognisable bell. In Spirit, I have further developed a number of those sounds as the starting point for the work’s harmony. The spectrum of pitch given off by a bell is typically complex, with clusters of high partials accumulated in its upper frequency regions. Spirit adapts this characteristic quite freely in the orchestral writing, aiming to evoke tension and resolution in the music through dense harmonic ‘clouds’ emerging from and opening out onto more focused harmony while building new motivic and gestural figures. In one sense the inclusion of electroacoustic sound allows for the enrichment of orchestral sonorities, but here it also serves another purpose. Since we do not witness any physical action connected with their production — other than through the impersonal channel of the loudspeakers — I think of these electroacoustic sounds as conveying a presence from another world. Refracted, reflected and resynthesised many times through digital processing, the bell might be thought of as a spirit whose underlying nature is never fully grasped.


Spirit was commissioned by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra to celebrate its 60th anniversary.