John Meirion Rea
Composer and Multimedia Artist
'Since leaving Cardiff University with an M.Mus. in composition, and an early stint as a session musician & arranger for Dave Stewart’s Anxious Records, I have enjoyed a long and successful career as a composer for concert platform, theatre, television, and film, whilst also pursuing my interests in sound installation, and sound-art.
Alongside numerous nominations, awards include two BAFTA Wales Awards in the Best Original Music category for specially composed scores for the BBC commissioned film featuring contemporary mixed-abilities dance company Cyrff Ystwyth, directed by Paul Islwyn Thomas, and an orchestral score for the BBC Wales Arts series The Big Picture, directed by Ceri Sherlock.
My interest in sound and music was first made manifest in a piece called Breakbeat, for string orchestra and four turntables/samplers, which was shown as part of the S4C series 'Y Cyfansoddwyr' (The Composers) in the late '90's. Other commissions include work for The BBC National Orchestra Of Wales, The Arts Council of Wales, The Welsh National Opera Orchestra Brass Consort, Elin Manahan Thomas, Ffotogallery, Element Films, Walk The Plank, The Wales Millennium Centre, and Faber Music. '
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A multi-disciplinary work for immersive soundscape and live percussion by John Meirion Rea, in collaboration with Dame Evelyn Glennie.
The Bell is one of the oldest musical sounds known to mankind. It is what calls us to gather; whether to worship, to study, to work, or alternatively it warns us of danger, both physical and spiritual. It rouses us from our dreams, structures our day, it sounds in times of celebration and mourning, accompanies us throughout our lives, and has fulfilled these functions, and more, for thousands of years. It can be intimate and personal, encouraging journeys into the spiritual world, also loud, and collective.
The bell, in both Eastern, and Western traditions share this long history, the sounds evoking strong emotional responses within us. This work explores this relationship, sonically and compositionally in a work that combines field recordings with a composed and part-improvised musical response.
I am also fascinated with the bell myths in Welsh mythology, such as 'Cantre’r Gwaelod', and its link to the folk-memory of gradually rising sea levels at the end of the Ice-Age, which has strong correlations with our current plight. The physical remains of the preserved sunken forest at Borth and of Sarn Badrig nearby, could have suggested that some great tragedy had overcome the community there long ago, and so the myth may have grown from this.
Also, the legend of Cantre'r Gwaelod is comparable to the deluge myth found in nearly every ancient culture. Several similar legends exist in Celtic mythology, which refer to a lost land beneath the waves. Both the Breton legend of 'Ker-Ys', which inspired Debussy, and the Arthurian tale of 'Lyonesse' refer to a kingdom submerged somewhere in the Celtic Sea, off the coast of Brittany or Cornwall respectively.
The relationship Wales has with its water is also a very strong resonance in this initial realization, and how the submerging of land is a recurring theme in our history. The main bell sound that forms much of the sound-world of the work is that of the 'Nangwyllt Church' in 'Cwm Elan'. This particular bell was rescued from the church that now lies below the reservoir of 'Caban Coch', alongside the community
that once lived in the valley. A powerful metaphor.
I have created a short film incarnation of this idea. The main inspiration for the sound-world of the work is an ambisonic field-recording of the 'call to service bell' of Nantgwyllt Church in Cwm Elan. I also use 'sonic cartographic' approaches in the use of underwater recordings of specific locations, such as 'Aberdyfi' harbour, 'Borth', and the 'Cwm Elan' reservoir 'Caban Coch', the location of the original church.
The soundscape based on these field-recordings, is subjected to analysis, and manipulation, in an investigation of how a 'sound object' has a unique inherent meaning for the listener, and can convey specific conceptual ideas. Part of this process is the 'spectral' analysis of the bell's partials, or harmonics, which form a chordal structure for the work. By then mixing these results using surround sound techniques, we are 'inside' the bell, or it's representation, also 'in' the water, or 'under' it – a step towards a new live immersive experience that is 'of' the bell, in this case, the 'Nantgwyllt' bell, and its significant cultural resonances.