Gary Carpenter’s Listening Project

Tutor in Composition and RNCM alumnus, Professor Gary Carpenter, explains the thoughts behind his exciting (not to mention nerve-wracking) new collaboration, The Listening Project.

Inspired by the legendary American broadcaster Studs Terkel, The Listening Project is a collaboration between the BBC and the British Library whereby any two people who are close (brothers, lovers, friends, parent/child, etc.) talk about something they have always wanted to discuss but haven’t. Three minute segments are sprinkled around local and national radio schedules and a compilation show transmits weekly on Radio 4 over three month periods. All conversations can be heard edited or in full online, and are permanently held in the British Library Sound Archive.

Earlier in the year series, producer Tony Philips, together with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, commissioned a new 25-minute work from RNCM Tutor in Composition and alumnus Professor Gary Carpenter, to be performed live against a collage of conversations covering specifically birth, conflict, memory, death/resurrection and happy endings. The result is a parallel exploration of the dialogue between ‘ordinary’ recorded conversation and the orchestra: dialogues on two levels.

‘My principal objective in writing the score was to support, reflect and occasionally comment upon the conversations,’ explained Gary. ‘By retaining a degree of relative distance, I intended to illuminate Terkel’s ‘constant amazement’ at the extraordinariness of spontaneous conversation between ‘ordinary’ people in a way that privileges the speech but not at any real expense of the musical argument. The intonation and rhythm of isolated phrases have served to initiate musical motives although they only occasionally elide with the dialogue to which they relate: I was particularly minded to avoid the Steve Reich Different Trains exemplar, which would now be something of a cliché.’

He continued: ‘At the first production meeting, the producers were particularly keen to include the word 'symphony' in the title. I shied away from that for reasons to do with expectation, history, connotation and so on, but having pretty well written the piece, I'm not so averse. So who knows what the title may now be?’

The live Radio 4 broadcast will take place between 7.15pm and 7.45pm on Friday 14 December; a popular slot with listeners that leaves little margin for error.

‘The broadcast falls between The Archers and Book of the Week in the slot usually occupied by Front Row,’ concluded Gary. ‘Because of this it is anticipated that the audience will be big; but interestingly, being Radio 4, there is very little room for error in respect of overall duration so the logistics of strict adherence to timings becomes more than usually significant. As a 'live' event, it'll be nerve-wracking for all of us; but it is still one of the most exciting projects one could ever wish to be involved with.’

To learn more about The Listening Project click here

11 December 2012