Thuistezien 282 — 31.05.2021

Lise Morrison
Another Lullay

Lise Morrison’s ‘Another Lullay’ explores the idea of timelessness. The composer’s works are exposed, contemplative, often melancholy, and deeply moving. They frequently immerse the listener into a world where time can stop for a moment, slow down, or seem to work non-linearly. Her output is characterised by flowing and slow-moving pieces that develop through different forms of repetition, and slowly expose the intricacies of her musical material as it drifts in and out of the foreground. But rarely does she allow you to grasp the full harmonic and melodic elements that underpin her pieces in a clear presentation. Instead, she gives you glimpses into the different sides of her material each time it reemerges, creating a mysterious landscape that you need to slowly move through a few times to get a handle on it.

‘Another Lullay’ is her first work to explicitly explore the idea of timelessness. Despite the work’s length only being around eight minutes long, the listener’s feeling of time is thrown off in that short time. The slow clarinet sounds that begin the work quickly give the listener the cue of the floating feeling of the work, one where the sense of pulse is obscured. You get the sense that this isn’t a work you can tap along to with your foot, and so the sense of the inner clock that holds together the rhythmic nature of the piece is hidden from the audience. It is the first indication that in “Another Lullay”, if the clocks haven’t actually stopped, they are at least moving slower than usual.

The work starts to give a stronger sense of forward feeling as the electric guitar and the percussion join. Yet, once again, the composer throws you off kilter: you are momentarily drawn into a flow, but it side steps you. Melodies start to build momentum, but other melodies interject, throwing you down another path. Then later the hints of melodies that first came to the surface are presented again , but slightly differently, creating a Déjà vu-like feeling. You are draw into a dream-like state, wherein moments and images seem blurred and disarranged. You can find yourself sinking into the shapeshifting textures and fading images, but then, as if waking up from a dream, you realise that even though it made perfect sense while you were in the moment, things somehow were slightly in the wrong order.

The feeling of timelessness is also helped through the unique use of instrumentation. The clarinet, which the composer herself performs in this rendition of the work, is an instrument which traditionally takes on a soloistic role which drives forward a musical piece, yet here it takes on more of an accompaniment role. This is enhanced by the use of multiphonics: a technique which can create two or more simultaneous pitches on a wind instrument, making the clarinet a chordal instrument at times, and thus taking this role away from the guitar which normally fulfils this function. But yet it is an accompaniment which isn’t necessarily pushing the piece forward. The clarinet’s complex, beautiful and mysterious sounds often invite you to stay within them, instead of pushing you forward. And similarly, the unique use of glass-bowls-turned-percussion create gong and bell-like sounds that ground the piece, slow it down and add to the drawn-out textures. Their tuning, which sits slightly outside the traditional twelve pitches of western music, and also pushes the guitar and clarinet at times slightly outside of the typical pitches in order to sound in tune in the context of the trio. These microtonal elements add extra nuance, sparkle and mystery to the work, and allow the listener to sit in each sound for longer.

Finally, the mysterious melodic material which we are given glimpses of in Morrison’s work touches on timelessness in another way. The composer uses different versions of the Corpus Christi Carol as the starting point of her composition. Yet the story of the carol is complicated: The oldest record of it exists in a manuscript that was created in the early 1500s by an apprentice grocer named Richard Hill. But the manuscript was only found in the 1800s, shoved behind a bookshelf. The text of the carol itself is confusing and mysterious and open to a wide range of interpretations. Also, no indication of the original melody of the carol seems to be notated in the manuscript. Instead various musical interpretations and reinterpretations of the melody have been created over the last centuries, ranging from a rendition by Jeff Buckley on his debut album ‘Grace’, to appearances in works by classical composers such as Benjamin Britten and Harrison Birtwistle, as well as performances by folk musicians, and by performers of medieval and other historical instruments, and is also heard regularly as part of the tradition of British Christmas Carols.

Morrisons’s original title for her composition was ‘Another Lullay (could be any other melody)’, emphasizing that she isn’t exploring the text, or even necessarily one of the melodies which have been attached to the Corpus Christi Carol. Instead, she seems primarily interested in the idea of how it has survived hundreds of years and been kept alive, and altered, by musicians across generations. For the title of her composition she borrows a word from the repeated line found in the carol: “Lully, lullay, lully, lullay!”. “Lullay” is an archaic onomatopoeic sound that would have been used to lull a child to sleep, and is also found in other Middle English songs and carols. But for the composer here it is a sound that held musical ideas that floated across generations of musicians, morphing and continually being reinterpreted as it went along the years, full of mystery, and seemingly timeless. Eventually some of its different musical interpretations wandered into Lise Morrison’s own Lullay.

Text: James Alexandropoulos – McEwan