Laura Jeffs – Mother and Child by the Sea

Programme Notes

This composition sonically captures Johan Christian Dahl’s Mother and Child by the Sea. The painting evokes a melancholic nostalgia linked to the death of Dahl’s mentor and friend Caspar David Friedrich; the music creates an atmosphere which invites the listener to reflect upon this theme. Despite the small size of the painting, the music creates an immersive soundscape in which the painting can be enjoyed. Layers presented within the painting are captured through the layering of synthesised sounds which represent the aesthetic qualities of the landscape. This composition aims to create a supplement to the visual stimulus and direct the viewer to experience the painting differently.

Extended notes:

Despite the small scale of Johan Christian Dahl’s Mother and Child by the Sea, the artist managed to immerse me within his seascape, an experience that I want to share with others. My aim is to create a sound world that promotes reflection within the audience, drawing them into the world that Dahl has captured.

I began this compositional journey by breaking down the image into a structure which I could follow musically. Dahl has made use of horizontal layers to form a sense of depth within the painting and I felt that this was an important structural feature that I would base my collection of musical material off. I considered the physical qualities that I interpreted out of the visual stimulus. The rocky foreground I considered to be crunchy and dry, the sea to be calm and granular, the clouds to be dark and ominous, and the moonlight to be bright and piecing. I then synthesised the sounds on super collider to sonically represent the qualities I interpreted from Dahl’s painting.

I was instantly drawn to Dahl’s use of light within the painting. The moon is centrally present, framed by clouds which draw the eye back to the moon. Due to this centrality, I decided to structure my composition in this way. The pitched material, which represents the moonlight and reflections, flicker in and out of the texture. It is often surrounded by the ominous bell sound which represents the clouds, providing a frame to the moonlight. To sonically represent the reflections upon the sea I have created lulls within the pitched material which coincides with the lapping of the granulated representation of the sea.

The sounds that I had synthesised had natural shape but lacked any sense of depth or space. To create perspective within the composition I made use of automation of panning, volume and EQ on all sounds to accentuate the shapes already present. I took inspiration from listening to the effects of distance on sounds within different environments and attempted to recreate that within my composition. Through using, I could create a larger sound from my material and gave it directionality which combined to create an immersive atmosphere.

Because of the strong presence of the figures within the artwork, I decided not to include a sonic representation of them musically. When reading the curatorial file, which contains details about the artist and the artwork, I became aware of the importance of the figures to Dahl personally. Dahl’s own father was a fisherman so some believe that this is an autobiographical image. Others consider it a homage to Caspar David Friedrich (Dahl’s friend and mentor) who died a year before Dahl painting this. I leave it to the viewer’s interpretation to decide who the figures represent.

The composition is in an arch form with a climax occurring at 3’56”. This is reflective of the composition of the landscape which has a central focal point on the moon. At the end the music returns to the material heard at the opening which represents the cyclic nature of the moon and offers a chance for the listener to loop back to the beginning of the composition for further reflection.

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