Sebastian Reynolds: my Burgess inspiration for The Universe Remembers
- 4th May 2020
- Blog Posts
The new single by music producer and composer Sebastian Reynolds has a particularly Burgessian inspiration. In a guest post for our blog, Sebastian Reynolds writes about The Universe Remembers.
The Universe Remembers, single taken from the EP, The Universe Remembers, released via Faith & Industry records
My new single The Universe Remembers originally came about after the modern classical music trio that I am part of, Solo Collective, along with German cellist Anne Müller and violinist Alex Stolze, was invited to perform at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on 20th September 2017.
As a composer and music maker who is always on the lookout for unusual sounds, or audio that has an interesting or curious story behind it, I was fascinated to find on the Burgess Foundation blog this footage of Mr Burgess purchasing his Bösendorfer piano in Harrods, the very piano which I was set to have the great pleasure of performing on at our forthcoming concert:
I extracted the sound from the YouTube clip, and started to cut up snippets of audio of Burgess playing the piano, as well as some atmospherics and the distant sound of his voice. These slivers of audio formed the basis for the track that finally ended up becoming The Universe Remembers.
The track was performed for the first time at our first Solo Collective concert at the Burgess Foundation, and it was a thrill to perform live on the Bösendorfer, over the top of samples taken from Burgess himself playing that very same piano.
Following this premiere for the embryonic version of The Universe Remembers, I continued to develop the piece. I invited clarinet player Rachel Coombes to contribute and the acclaimed producer Capitol K worked with me to develop the rhythmic elements at the Total Refreshment studios in London.
With reference to the stylistics and genre decisions for The Universe Remembers, the clarinet lines and the jazzy swing time piano are references to pre-Second World War jazz, with the dissonant crescendo at the end an allusion to the breakdown of ’20s and ’30s decadence to be followed by the war that was coming. The finale is a musical reference to the harsh, atonal work of post war modernist composers such as Stockhausen and Varèse.
From a literary perspective, the more discernible voice that appears throughout The Universe Remembers is that of the actor Robert Speaight, taken from his reading of T.S. Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land.
In a broader sense I have long been inspired by modernist and dystopian literature, with Burgess’s work, particularly A Clockwork Orange. I felt privileged to have encountered A Clockwork Orange for the first (and second) time when the film finally received a return to British cinema screens following the death of director Stanley Kubrick in 1999. These two trips to the cinema were formative and inspirational rites of passage for me as a teenager.
I recently discovered that Burgess was enraptured by The Waste Land and the work of T.S. Eliot: he even composed a musical arrangement which included the singing of text from The Waste Land, and some recordings of Burgess reading from certain sections of the poem survive.
The Waste Land’s themes of death, rebirth and the connection between ancient civilisation and the modern world clearly struck a very profound chord with Burgess, as they did with me, hence the title of the piece, The Universe Remembers.
Words: Sebastian Reynolds. Photos: Miles Hart Photography
Find more about Sebastian Reynolds’ work here. Buy The Universe Remembers here.
Andrew Biswell, director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, writes:
The Universe Remembers is a remarkable multi-layered work, paying homage to Anthony Burgess and simultaneously inhabiting the world of 1930s jazz in which he grew up, and from which he later made his own music.
The Burgess Foundation is always seeking to encourage new collaborations with contemporary artists, so it is exciting for us that Sebastian Reynolds has also performed on Burgess’s own piano at the Engine House in Manchester.
I’m sure that Burgess’s shade will be smiling and nodding with approval while listening to this track.