Music for shells and train station

The story of this composition has two sides. One is the idea of music in the central train station in Antwerp. This is a well loved building by the people of Antwerp and by the many millions of people who have seen it and experienced it’s beauty.

“I was there quite often in a certain period a few years ago and started fantasizing about musicians from a brass band placed throughout the building, from the lowest underground platforms to the balconies and stairways in the massive entrance hall. In my fantasy the information from the arrival and departure of trains was translated to and sent in real time to the musicians individually, creating a long, evolving, minimalistic piece that would interact with the traffic in the train station,” writes Jon Birdsong, composer of the piece.

The other side is the use of a conch shell as musical instrument. The conch shell is actually an ancient musical instrument- probably the first trumpet. Around 10,000 b.c. the shell was first used probably as signaling device. It evolved in many cultures as instrument used in ceremony and religion. In Tibet, India, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, and the Caribbean, people used the shell as a trumpet. It is actually the distant relative of modern brass instruments.

Spiral Consort is an ensemble of professional brass players who use this unusual instrument in a modern context. They have been developing an ensemble approach to music making with the conch shells often in combination with modern instruments. The discovery of the amazing physical sound of the conch shells (especially played together) has led this group to a simple, open, form of minimalism.

In terms of Music for Shells and Train Station what is interesting to note is their technique of communication to achieve their musical result. They have developed a system of hand signals for structures and technique and a system of color coded cards to coordinate harmony. This is serves the original idea of the music of this piece being affected by the coming and going of the trains and their passengers. The conductor of the piece takes the information about the arrivals and departures of trains and gives it through to the 10 musicians stationed in different parts of the building with the use of video cameras and monitors for each of the players.

The gigantic space of the central station will be an exceptional reverberating chamber perfect for the sounds of these instruments and will be the foundation of a living, evolving composition.

The players include:

Marleen Leicher
Goedele Moons
Bert Bernaerts
Mario Conjaerts
Tobe Wouters
Ananta Roosens
Charlotte Van Wouwe
Stefaan Blanke
Berlinde Daeman
Jon Birdsong