Sturzstrom: for massed choirs [1]

STURZSTROM: what is it?
May 4 2011

A landslide event for voices!

‘Sturzstrom’ is a vocal work that expresses in sound the formation and geology of the Jurassic Coast concentrating on the phenomena of landslips, mudslides and coastal erosion.

The work will be a primordial, timeless piece that reflects Deep Time and geological processes in sound, structure and process of composition, echoing the creation of the land, strata and Jurassic Coast across time. Using the power of massed choirs, it will act on communities, singers and audiences at a visceral, atavistic level, capturing and integrating their reactions to it. Vocal content will be developed and shaped in local communities in East Devon and West Dorset through creative workshops with the composer, using texts relating to the geology of the Jurassic Coast as the basis for non-narrative content. Through the Jurassic Arts Team, the composer and community choirs will also work with geologists and scientists who will inform the creative process, both compositionally and in the origination of the vocal text).


‘Sturzstrom’ is part of the the Coastal Voices project and will look at how the geology we see along the coast was formed and how it is being shaped today, how that geology has shaped the land above and how the landscape created affects us as people.



A sturzstrom (German literally for “fall stream” or “collapse stream”; the correct German term, however, is “bergsturz”) is a rare, unique type of landslide consisting of soil and rock which is characterized by having a great horizontal movement when compared to its initial vertical drop – as much as 20 or 30 times the vertical distance. Sturzstroms are similar to glaciers, mudslides, and lava flows. Sturzstroms flow across land fairly easily, and their mobility increases when volume increases. They have been found on other bodies in the solar system, including the moon, Mars, Venus, Io, Callisto, and Phobos. More information can be found here.

mudslide and sediment

A Coastal Voices commission, ‘Sturzstrom’ will be performed in Weymouth and Portland as part of the Cultural Olympiad celebrating the 2012 Olympic Games.

My aims:

To compose an original and experimental piece of new music for community choirs
To create a work which explores a variety of new and innovative vocal and percussive techniques
To bring together singers from a range of choirs, backgrounds and ages
To give community singers the opportunity to sing with massed voices
To take community choirs and singers on a journey from their familiar musical world into the sound world of the composer
To support choirs with creative workshops led by the composer and with mentoring for choir leaders
To enable singers to contribute to the pitch content of the music through guided aleatoric and graphic notation


The challenges:

The challenge is twofold –

Firstly, to research with geologists the very sound of landslips and morphodynamic changes in the coastline and translate these sounds and sound processes to the human voice through the structure and content of this new commission as well as finding suitable geological and scientific texts that can be ‘treated’ for performance purposes to form the vocal word content of the piece.

Secondly, to notate the musical content of ‘Sturzstrom’ in such a way as to be totally inclusive of those with no musical experience, be that singing or reading conventional music notation, so that they can learn and perform the piece to the highest standard. This notation will be forged with the individual groups forming a highly personal and communicative language that will be capable of communicating the pitch and rhythmic content of the score as well as shaping sounds in ‘live’ performance (with guidance from the conductor). The music will contain a measure of aleatoric and improvisational material that will be rehearsed and considered to form part of a cohesive whole. These elements will allow for a co-creative relationship between composer and singers. The resultant music will be complex and highly textural with many individual layers of activity moving together to create movement from focus to flux as the landscape of the music forms, erodes, slips, slides and reforms again.

Blackven, near Charmouth, Dorset