Spatia - for solo cello and reverberant space, composed by David Bird, performed by Helen Newby at Project Q in West Harlem, NYC
"Spatia" was written for the San Francisco-based cellist Helen Newby in 2016 and is intended to be performed in an outdoor or reverberant space. The work was inspired by my visit to the Cour Ovale, the Oval Courtyard at the Château de Fontainebleau in Fontainebleau, France. The historic Chateau is located in the heart of the vast forest of the Île-de-France, and due to its abundance of wildlife and natural springs, French royalty from the 12th century onwards used the idyllic location as a vacation spot for hunting and lodging.
The Cour Ovale is located in the rear of the Chateau and contains a cobble- stone courtyard bordered and overlooked by a number of renaissance style apartments designed in the 16th and 17th centuries for the royal family and their guests. The courtyard was the location where the royal family would mount their horses and depart for hunting excursions. From there, they would pass through a large ornate gate which led from the Cour Ovale and the rest of the Chateau directly to the expansive forest of the Île-de-France. The Cour Ovale would inevitably be the location where they would return from these excursions, dragging in from the backs of horses the rewards of their hunt for the display of the occupants in the elaborate apartments lining the courtyard. Upon arrival, the hunted animals would be prepped for display instantaneously, the wide separations linking the cobble stones in the courtyard allowed the blood of the hunted animals to be drained swiftly.
Upon visiting the space, I found an intriguing contradiction between the historic and ornate setting of the Cour Ovale and the violent and pompous hunting practice its architecture enclosed. Additionally, I observed that the oval shape of the courtyard, which had a remarkable ability to amplify the sounds of footsteps and birds, resembled, for me, the shape and qualities of a musical instrument, most notably a violoncello. In composing the work, I attempted to exploit the aforementioned contradiction, to compose raw and violent material to resonate within the crafted, and historically imbued instrument of the violoncello. The sounds depicted in the work range from human footsteps, to bird calls and horse gallops, to animalistic shrieks and gasps for air, and an empty and whistling wind. I designed these sounds to resonate within the instrument as I would have imagined them resonating within the expanse of the Cour Ovale.