Peter Batchelor: composer, sound designer


for headphones | June 2001, c.5' (looped)




vis-à-vis was one of eight pieces commissioned from members of BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) as part of a project for the Aldeburgh Fringe Festival during June 2001. Entitled Viewpoint, this project involved the assembly of eight windbreaks on Aldeburgh beach, each forming a small compartment containing a single deck-chair and headphones. Seven of these compartments opened to the sea, each facing one of the countries directly across the North Sea from Aldeburgh; the eighth compartment faced Aldeburgh itself. The eight composers involved were each invited to choose one of these countries and produce a piece inspired by a section of its coastline. The piece would be played on a loop in one of the available compartments. vis-à-vis was to represent the bay of Wissant on the coast of France.

The brief for Viewpoint demanded that each piece should include sound material derived from the following materials:
• the national anthem of the country portrayed;
• extracts from tourist brochure texts describing the portrayed coastline (beaches, cliffs, harbour) in the language of the appropriate country;
• an English translation of the same text.
These came to determine the character of vis-à-vis, whose title refers to the text’s observation that the English coast can be viewed from the French headlands: (white-cliff-)face-to-(white-cliff-)face. This suggested a number of cultural comparisons, in particular exploring the notion of the English seaside experience (caricatured by the colourful windbreaks and deck-chairs on Aldeburgh beach) against a postulated French equivalent (which I have not experienced). Thus the Marseillaise plays as if on a bandstand at a seaside resort, while café-accordion sounds emerge later in the work, though these, as with other materials additional to those prescribed (e.g. water, grinding pebbles, children playing etc) are more heavily processed.



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