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Peter Pears: Balinese ceremonial music

About a decade ago, we became obsessed with Colin McPhee’s (1900-1964) transcriptions of Balinese ceremonial music for two pianos. The dual pianos translate the complicated overlapping patterns of gamelan music into a stylised, Western approximation, which takes on an especial beauty given that now, there are countless recordings of the “original” music available. McPhee lived, in 1940, with the composer Benjamin Britten, his partner Peter Pears, W.H. Auden, and other artist strays.

McPhee and Britten recorded the suite in 1941, and while the recording is foxed and hissy, it is deliciously evocative and points towards the music Britten wrote before his death in 1976. We decided to write a set of nine songs loosely based on the textures and interlocking rhythms from McPhee’s transcriptions, as well as the various resonant metals from Balinese music, but consolidated into our own stylised processes. We recorded the transcriptions on the most characterful piano we could find, and they are interwoven with the new songs.

The project is named after Peter Pears, who, in addition to being Britten's partner, was an observer and collaborator not just of Britten, but of a larger community of musicians, writers, and thinkers. The album features both of us playing keyboards, Thomas’s voice (stranger, even, than Pears’s), and many of our closest collaborators on strings and metallic percussion.