At about 9:15am on Friday, October 21, 1966, in the small Welsh mining village of Aberfan, a man-made catastrophe occurred when a mountain of coal waste collapsed. One thousand tons of black slag demolished a farm, then 18 houses and Pantglas Junior School.
“We heard a tremendous rushing as though a whirlwind had struck and then came absolute silence”.
116 children and 28 adults were killed.
Aberfan (7 pianos, percussion, voice and tools of rescue) is a full length contemporary composition informed by one of the most poignant disasters of our time. Music will be presented both in a live performance and immersive installation with black & white photographs taken by Life photojournalist IC Rapoport, who went to Aberfan to "photograph the psychic mess".
A Tribunal investigating the 1966 events found that the National Coal Board was entirely responsible for failing to act to prevent the disaster, though they were never prosecuted.
My mother wrote a folk song in the wake of the tragedy that I used to hear when I was a child. I have been compelled for years to work on an adaptation of my own. Using excerpts of melody and lyric from her song, as well as portions of hymns sung earlier that morning and at the mass funeral less than a week later, Aberfan splices 31 musical Sequences of Rain, Sunrise, Rubble, Rock, Interludes, Trauma, Silence and a Field, with their Alterations.
Aberfan is a tribute not only for the people of a village who suffered the loss of a generation and the "wounded soul of the Welsh" who saw "their beautiful country being destroyed when the coal mines came to the valleys", but for our country and our world, besieged by unbridled industry pillaging the land and its people, enriching the few, killing our future. The tragedy of Aberfan and the music it informed manifest the abject sorrow and rage resulting from the devastating human and environmental impacts of the fossil fuel industry, more recently embodied by mountain-top removal coal mining and fracking. Aberfan is the condemnaiton of a corrupted capitalism, the truth of our entrapment in a world of power and violent indifference to life. Aberfan confronts and aims to disrupt our complacency.
To execute the performance and installation of Aberfan, we are in need of funds to make a studio recording and develop a design for the visual element.
I will record with Juno winner Michael Farquharson producing and Takuma Anzai on percussion. Ian Heisters of Berkeley, CA, will design and develop the visual element. Denise Wallace-Spriggs of Boston, MA, will consult on art direction.
We plan on presentations of varying scope across the United States within the next several years following the anniversary of the disaster in October 2016.
Aberfan is participatory. Ian Smith-Heisters will create an immersive space using projection of imagery and semi-transparent scrims, capturing the landscape and people, the tactility of coal, ingrained in their faces. The viewer moves through the space, at times full of unsettling, discordant movement as if being subsumed in an avalanche of slag and at other times still, inducing pause. One can walk inside, behind and around the moving images, inside the performance.
The penetrating quality of musical vibrations in synergy with photographic art, resonating where words cannot, evokes a greater world where all are connected as living beings on a living earth. In bearing witness to the single atrocity of Aberfan, one can begin to question the arrogance of "progress" built on destruction, absent the soul.
As Alice Miller discovered the trauma of her own childhood through spontaneous painting and wrote about in her many books, this is the story of power and destruction wrought over all the world in the willful and unconscious devastation upon children and the call to transform the inscrutable events.
Can I turn this music 'round in my hand?
Constructed from a deeply personal, related place, may Aberfan sound the immutable tragedy.
Please visit Laura Siersema for music samples and more information.
“If a patron buys from an artist who needs money (needs money to buy tools, time, food), the patron then makes himself equal to the artist; he is building art into the world; he creates.” – Ezra Pound
Photos above courtesy of Alan George, South Wales Police Museum and IC Rapoport, Aberfan, 1966