= Sense of Place – Nigel Morgan

Sense of Place

Four Seasons for Solo Guitar


Sense of Place brings the composer’s recent encounters with textiles and formal studies as a weaver to the creation of a new composition for solo guitar and soundscape. This 35-minute work has been commissioned for an installation at High Cross House, a remarkable example of 1930’s architecture on the famous Dartington Estate in South Devon. The installation is of contemporary artworks by tapestery weaver Jilly Edwards and runs from May to October 2010. This score is in spirit a ‘four seasons’ for solo guitar, constructed both as a sonic installation for each of the seven rooms in the house and for live concert performance. It is being created to interact with the sensory experience inside and outside High Cross House and to amplify the woven work by Jilly Edwards. Each of the seven rooms in the house will feature a small digital image frame and MP3 player displaying photos by Mei Lim and a different remix of the Sense of Place score.
Jilly Edwards: Textures of Memory (2005) cotton warp, wool, cotton, chenille and linen weft 5 x 120 cm

The ambitious musical structure of this four-movement concert work is a further example of the composer’s engagement with algorithmic music and Open Form. In this respect the music starts where Dreaming Aloud (2001) ends. Unlike that five-movement virtuoso concert piece written for the remarkable American guitarist Alan Thomas, Sense of Place has been designed for intimate recording, and for gallery performances by the composer, himself an accomplished guitarist. The core ideas of the work come from investigating possible dialogues between known and unknown (inside and outside). Here juxtapositions of open string resonances and natural harmonics will play with pitches ‘outside’ the fixed tonality of the guitar’s 6 strings (E A D G B E). Interspersed there are various percussive and rhythmic effects that have their origin in the intimate sounds of tapestry weaving. Like the composer’s Fifteen Images the score will be available in an Active Notation format to enable the performer to design a personal pathway through the work and to control in concert performance both aspects of the soundscape (by Phil Legard) and images (by Mei Lim).



Sense of Place references music for a soloist that has strong associations with Dartington and the Bauhaus tradition, notably compositions by J.S.Bach and Paul Hindemith.

Bach is a composer that holds a particular association with Dartington’s past through the pioneering work in the 1950s of Imogen Holst, the daughter of Gustav Holst and herself a composer and educator. Bach’s music was a particular touchstone for Ms Holst who created memorable community performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor and the St John Passion. Nigel Morgan has long felt an affinity with Imogen, who he met in 1972, as she was one of the forerunners of the Arts Council’s regional Music Animateur placements, a position Nigel occupied in the 1980s producing community-based work such as Spring Manoeuvres (1986). Nigel has chosen movements from Bach’s cello suites to reference within Sense of Place, imagining the great cellist Pablo Casals playing at High Cross during his occasional visits to Dartington in the 1950s. You can hear an example of how Nigel has mediated three sarabandes by J.S. Bach within the third movement of Dreaming Aloud.


The four sonatas for solo viola and the Ludus Tonalis for piano by Paul Hindemith are further reference points for Sense of Place. Hindemith like Morgan was a composer who believed fervently in performing his own work. These sonatas written between 1919 and 1937 provide fascinating source material to embed in music for a house so influenced by the Bauhaus aesthetic to which Hindemith felt so drawn to.

The (optional) soundscape aspect of Sense of Place has been afforded by the opportunity to record this new score in the rooms of High Cross itself, and alongside the unique tapestry installation by Jilly Edwards. Nigel has long wished to include aspects of natural soundscape in his work, indeed the forthcoming piano work Sheltering Silence (a meditation on Basil Bunting’s modernist poem Briggflatts) will feature a soundscape from a Cumbrian garden. What is proposed for Sense of Place is an almost subliminal surrounding of the music by the sounds of the natural world outside and exploring the particular acoustical qualities of each of the seven rooms inside. For the opening the composer has, in collaboration with sound designer Phil Legard, created a preliminary version of the soundscape. This plays from small domestic digital picture frames positioned strategically throughout the house. Examples of these soundscape ‘seasons’ can be auditioned on the download section of this presentation.

Jilly Edwards:  
Walk to Zennor (2000) wool, cotton and wool on a cotton warp.


In September 2009 Nigel Morgan visited the Exeter studio of Jilly Edwards and wrote about the experience in his fortnightly blog devoted to his interest in textiles and his developing practice as a weaver. He has also made an analysis of one of her tapestries of the early 1990sEchoes of Devon Alongside work on Sense of Place, Nigel has been experimenting with some of the techniques Jilly Edwards has developed to structure her woven images, notably a kind of visual snapshot approach to capturing the essence of journeys taken. A recent choral work Under Attermire Scar, composed for the Swedish chamber choir Voces Nordicae, shows clearly the use of this technique within the composer’s own music and poetry .

Sense of Place joins a series of compositions associated with textiles, notably Fifteen Images (Le Jardin Pluvieux), a collaboration with textile artist Alice Fox, and a song cycle Pleasing Myself based on the textile creations of Janet Bolton.

Nigel Morgan at High Cross House, May 2010. Photographs by Alice Fox.

The installation Sense of Space runs until October 29 at High Cross House, Dartington. The composer will be performing the concert work informally during the summer of 2010, but giving the official premiere in October in a recital featuring the composer’s own transcriptions of Bach and Hindemith. The CD recording with digital soundscape is planned for release in October 2010.As a concert work Sense of Place has been imagined as four separate pieces titled after each season. This is partly to encourage soloists to blend this new work into their existing programmes. To add further emphasis to this possibility and to the nature of the composition itself Nigel Morgan explains here how his music relates to both place and season, and to the influence of both photography and the textile medium. Separate copies of Spring, Summer, Autumn and
Winter with specially commissioned images by Alice Fox can be also downloaded here.

Full Score [pdf]

Installation extracts: Spring [mp3]

Summer [mp3]

Autumn [mp3]

Winter [mp3]