Sing the Gloaming is a collaboration between Professor Simon Kirby and artists/musicians Tommy Perman and Rob St. John, taking its inspiration from Simon’s research in the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Language Evolution.
It’s a project on light, language and landscape, created using experimental art and music. The latest iteration of the project is a 10″ vinyl record and print package out June 2020 via new Edinburgh-based record label Blackford Hill. The record features some of Scotland’s finest vocalists: Kenny Anderson, Nerea Bello, Aidan Moffat, Emily Scott, Su Shaw, Hanna Tuulikki and Andrew Wasylyk.
Each singer was asked to find a place where light moves, then record short new vocal pieces around particular ‘light words’ there, thinking about the qualities of the space they were in, and those of the words themselves when recording their pieces.
The ‘light words’ in Sing the Gloaming are phonaesthemes, words whose form seems to evoke their meaning directly. In the English language, there are many beginning with “gl” which relate to light, for example: glimmer, glitter, glow, gleam and gloom. These words have all evolved from a single word spoken over 5,000 years ago near the Black Sea. Their different forms and meanings bear the hallmarks of their individual routes through history, across languages and cultures to present-day English.
Once each singer had finished their recordings, they were passed onto the next singer, who in turn listened and improvised their own ‘light word’ piece. Melodies emerged and evolved in this process: mirroring the real-world evolution of the words themselves.
The resulting recordings were (re)composed using a series of innovative production techniques, using modular synthesisers, granular synthesis and convolution reverbs created directly from data on the use of the “gl” words in five million books published since 1500.
But for all its conceptual thinking and tinkering: the new record is a playful and joyous listen. The vocals wash in and out, creating new clusters of chords, melodies and rhythms, each singer collaborating with the next, their collective efforts coalescing like the words in language itself. Four additional pieces see Simon, Tommy and Rob develop the source material in creative and unexpected ways.