Smithfield Rotunda Garden
The Smithfield Rotunda is an anomaly on Culture Mile that simultaneously exposes its soul, through open entrances, unparalleled lines of sight (from the ground at least) and an abundance of commemorative shrines, whilst hiding its deepest secrets in the depths of a history belied by this now tranquil space. The Rotunda Car Park entrance, wrapping itself around the Rotunda Garden in forbidding descent, is perhaps symbolic of these hidden depths and one cannot help but feel a sense of awe as you slowly tread the path downwards, leaving the busy hubbub of modern city soundscape behind. A greater sense of awe can perhaps be felt by sitting in the Rotunda Garden and reflecting on a symbolic descent into the darker pages of history some five centuries earlier; at the start of a period where thousands were martyred here for their eternal beliefs and political objectors were dismembered for belonging to the wrong cycle of persuasion at the wrong moments of history – such fortunes reversed in a few short decades, too late for those who had already paid the ultimate cost for their convictions.
Inspired by the architecture and history, our collaborative work plays on the cyclic and eternal themes described above using a technique known as ‘process composition’. Designed to enable all six musicians to exercise their individual creative freedom, the structure brings everything together in unity for the common good of the complete composition and therefore the listener.
An ‘eternally descending’ bass line (actually a simple six note ostinato sonically sculpted to give the illusion of continual descent) draws the listener symbolically back through 47 decades of time, while the disparate tonal centers, represented by 12 layers of sound design (2 per musician), are cyclically cross-faded and merged for coherence and progression – illustrating that harmony in diversity is very much possible where space is given for ‘difference’ to resonate. A descending pulse mirrors the descending bass and points towards introspection and eternal destiny. As the piece draws to a conclusion, the ambient spacial sound matches that of the bottom of the tunnel – achieved through a sampled impulse response of the space itself .
Whether historically, spiritually or physically, the music is designed to pull the listener away from the business of the ‘present’ and into a ‘deeper’ experience lying just blow the surface. How much deeper is very much in the mind of the listener.
EMS Collective for ‘Eternal Descent’:
Mike Roberts – concept, design and lead producer
James Allen – layer producer
Will Davenport – layer producer
Sam Dinley – layer producer
Giacomo Farigon – layer producer
Vicky Sanders – layer producer
EMS Collective, directed by Mike Roberts, is an ever changing ensemble of musicians and composers connected to Guildhall School’s Electronic Music Studios. Inspired by Smithfield Rotunda Garden, the collective drew on ‘process technique’ to enable the six musicians (Mike Roberts, James Allen, Will Davenport, Sam Dinley, Giacomo Farigon, Vicky Sanders) to compose freely within the cyclic bass ostinato of their ‘Eternal Descent’.