Ives Ensemble

Commissioned for the Ives Ensemble by De Link, Nieuwe Muziek Tilburg

I wrote the first drafts of music for this piece during a long period of convalescence, at a time when I felt pretty useless (ok, deeply useless). I discovered that even when I didn’t have the will to do much at all, I could lie in bed and push notes around (laptop sitting on my chest as we all do), in sweaty pyjamas. It was all a bit gross. This time overlapped with the early days of lockdown, depressing and very confusing.

At that time, I had the quote in my head ‘ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering’ (Leonard Cohen), and the piece began to be about bells somehow—how they swing, and how they mark passing time. The piece is not at all about Leonard Cohen, but with this mantra-like quote in mind, the process of composing became a meditation on the imperfect perfection of this tiring body and all the uselessness of plans.

After making a few drafts with my own ideas of what swinging bells might sound like (and the patterns they might make together), I realised I needed instead to understand more about bells in reality. I then worked with closely with a recording of a peal of bells from a convent in France, from which the composition now derives all of its material. In particular, there was magic to be found in slowing the recording down, hearing and singing along to hidden melodies that emerged as bell-resonances combined like interleaving lines in renaissance polyphony.

This piece exists thanks to the theatre De Link, who commissioned this piece and in challenging times organised the live premiere by the Ives Ensemble (October 2020). Heartfelt thanks the Explore Ensemble for giving first light to a revised version here in March 2021.

The following clip, performed by the Explore Ensemble, was recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios for Radio 3’s New Music Show on 27 March 2021.

Explore Ensemble · Cassandra Miller — Perfect Offering [clip]