St Bartholomew the Great is London’s oldest parish church, built when Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, was King of England. It survived the Great Fire of 1666 and bombings in both World War I’s Zeppelin raids and during the Blitz in World War II.
Today the Church is known for wonderful Romanesque architecture, but also for traditional formal worship, marvellous music, intelligent preaching and its inclusive, diverse congregation. It has also appeared in a series of award-winning films including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love and The End of the Affair.
Stepping inside St Bartholomew the Great, one literally enters a time capsule; inescapably engaging with an ancient past and 900 years of venerable worship. Nevertheless, the present is as relevant as the past in this ancient little church, with its thriving Anglican community and choir.
Rahere founded the Priory of the Hospital of St Bartholomew in 1123, following a vision of the eponymous saint. St Bartholomew the Great was originally the priory church, converting to an Anglican church following the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. The ghost of Rahere is said to appear every year on the morning of July the 1st, emerging from the Vestry as a shadowy, cowled figure from the gloom, brushing by witnesses before fading slowly into the air.
Kassia was inspired to explore the temporal dimensions of this unique building, by composing a piece that speaks of the present, yet slips and slides back and forth into a past that is ephemeral, veiled, ghost-like and liminal. One can never quite inhabit or capture the past — fleeting traces and resonant signatures are sometimes all that we have to reconstruct what has gone before.
Liturgical choral music connects the medieval with the present: from time immemorial, the voice has been used as an instrument for worship. With this in mind, Kassia recorded the church choir during one of their routine rehearsals, then digitally extracted fragments and phrases. The concept of a library of musique concrète goes back to the 1940s and Pierre Schaeffer, and it was in this tradition that Kassia subjected her fragments to morphing and magicking (convolution, filtering, slowing down, and so forth) in order to build her concrète library of sound. Finally, she assembled the fragments on a digital timeline to build the hauntological composition.
Impulse responses were collected in the church, and it was interesting to hear the effect these had on the reverberation landscape within the composition. However, given all the original choir sounds were recorded within the church (with the exception of the bell), the less manipulated ‘present’ fragments already carry this reverberation ‘signature’. Kassia’s morphed samples, on the other hand, were designed to evoke the liminal past, and are inherently ‘thinner’. She chose to leave them that way in order to emphasise the difference between the present and the past.
‘Rahere’ by Kassia Flux.