Songs of the Zeitgeist was been created in collaboration with the poet Graham Roos. The initial prompt was the fact that the London Sinfonietta was to relocate to a building that was also to house a daily national newspaper, the Guardian. This brought about the idea for a piece that attempted the unusual in contemporary music by tackling very recent topical news issues, basing its texts on newspaper articles.
I gave Graham Roos a list of all the things I was upset about or interested in – Obama (it’s like a beautiful Italian word to sing with all its vowels), binge-drinking, trains, religion and war, Dawkins versus Creationism, CCTV, bees… It’s a great opportunity to use sound effects, almost like trying to write for an exotic percussion instrument.
Song can put a dangerous spin on a subject. Composers so often reach for something like the Faber Book of Love Poems or Emily Dickinson and shun a topic because they are worried that it’ s too topical, therefore too ephemeral, commonplace or quickly forgotten. Yet “art” can also be found under one’s nose - on our doorstep, in a daily newspaper headline. It needn’t be the result of a wearisome quest, the search for the “beautiful” that the 19th century insisted we make. In this project we’ve attempted to take hold of the “vernacular” and re-fashion it. The young understand the exuberance of the vernacular from their indie pop music and are puzzled why so few of our composers and writers get attracted to it.
Songs of the Zeitgeist was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and premiered on Saturday 24 January 2009 at Kings Place, London.