Today is Armistice Day 2017.
I have been creating electronic music for some time and also have been working on a sound / image / film project about the First World War, since starting out all those years ago.
It is something that I return to from time to time, but I was spurred on to try and complete it by the centenary and set myself a couple of goals.
– To create a memorial piece for every year of the war
– To actually get the whole project, which is quite large, finished by November 2018.
I have created pieces about the start of the war(1914), Piccardy(1915), the first use of tanks (1916) and here for 1917, the Battle of Passchendaele . It’s a sort of ‘electronic soundscape requiem’ that covers all aspects and often not with a happy ending.
I decided this year to give a taster of what the project is like, since the Battle of Passchendaele was truly terrible, an understatement from me.
1917 – Army of Death
Passchendaele: 31 July – 6 November 1917
It was infamous not only for the scale of casualties, but also for the mud. For the sake of a few kilometres, the British lost 310,000 men and the Germans 260,000.
For this piece there are two major themes –
The poem, The Army of Death by Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895 – 1915) killed by a sniper at the age of 21 at the Battle of Loos.
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
The use of horses on the front –
Conditions were severe for horses at the front; they were killed by artillery fire, suffered from skin disorders, and were injured by poison gas. Hundreds of thousands of horses died, and many more were treated at veterinary hospitals and sent back to the front. Procuring fodder was a major issue, and Germany lost many horses to starvation.
By 1917, Britain had over a million horses and mules in service, but harsh conditions, especially during winter, resulted in heavy losses, particularly amongst the Clydesdale horses, the main breed used to haul the guns. Over the course of the war, Britain lost over 484,000 horses, one horse for every two men.
I imagined a soldier walking through the mud towards the front, ever onward, blinkered like a horse to the scenes of horror…..
Many thanks to –
Poem is read by JH on LibriVox
Sample of ‘Out of the Deep’ by Orlando Gibbon – The Tudor Consort on Archive.org
War sounds courtesy of the Freesound community (public domain)
Artwork created by Museleon based on a photo of Chateau Wood, October, 1917.
As with most Museleon tracks, better listened via headphones.