Issue 21




RMMV Asturias: a score for Juxtavoices


Walt Shaw & Alan Halsey








Much of this piece is performed at a whisper but all whisperers should occasionally sing their word or phrase at a higher volume.  The words are clearly articulated throughout. 



A.  All singers sing an extended intermittent note of their choosing, starting at the edge of audibility (i.e. unvoiced breath) then slowly building.  Approx 3 minutes. 


B.  A low, rich electronic drone starts here & continues to end of F. 

Sparse percussion — softly struck bells — in this & following passage.

Singers in five mixed-voice groups:

i) at intervals whispers  Asturias  drawing out the syllables, tunefully, ghostlily

ii) spells out the letters  RMMMVVRMVMM  randomly, varying notes, in short bursts

iii) ditto with the letters  RMSSPPPSSMRRMM 

iv) occasionally whispers on single note  Royal Mail Motor Vessel  or  Royal Mail Ship  or

Royal Mail Steam Packet

v) occasionally whispers  By Courtesy Of  on ascending notes


C.  B.iv & B.v join B.i now whispering  RMMV Asturias 

while B.ii & B.iii improvise for about 30 secs  Sir or Madam / we applied 


then while half the choir continues with  RMMV Asturias 

the other half chants, conducted in unison:



On the / to you on behalf of / of /

for the balance of an o /

              Not having r /

you, to save further tr /

         glad if you would let u /

in this matter per retu



repeated several times but after first iteration the rest of the singers tunefully improvise in any order:



         overdue account

received any reply from

               rouble we should be

   s know your intentions

            rn of post



duration up to 2 minutes then



D.  all singers improvise, in random order, singly or in combination,

B.i sparse jumpy staccato; B.ii on intermittent ascending notes;

B.iii ditto but descending; B.iv on single intermittent extended notes; B.v spoken:



thet    fofof    forth     sofan

    ving     adif     atter

verdue  sieve    astu      sacro

    sadder   omdeck    fie

survival  shad    shun    warned

        flow          vaster



accompanied by morse code sounds produced by two or three whistlers.

Duration up to 2 minutes then


E.  most singers revert to whispering Asturias 

except B.iv & B.v who improvise (as D but freely sung):



     necklace on a rusty can

mist floats across a

             darkening prom deck

       shadowy hull

2 phials or vials, one of blood

          and one gentian violet

wellworn driftwood floating past

  3 pairs of specs, one broken

1 tin Godfrey Phillips Grand Cut



duration up to 2 minutes then


F.  in which the softly struck bells of B-C & the whistled morse of D return. 

B.iv & B.v join B.i whispering  Asturias  occasionally interjecting childlike sighs & whimpers 

while B.ii & B.iii improvise (as D but freely sung or spoken):



      Back Mast        10 x 8

        at Southampton Docks

    48     Yours etc     15-12-2

D Group on the upper deck   323078

    P.J.     1st Class Prom Deck

           323092     Sec

     2nd Class Prom Deck     15

   3rd Class Passenger Prom Deck

    323088     8½ x 6½     ditto

         Boat Deck looking aft



while a soprano sings to a dreamy, darkly plaintive & somewhat dysfunctional melody:



necklace drifting on a rusty balance

darkening glad you to save this

wellworn violet reply to

your shadowy intentions floating

on an overdue account of a

necklace drifting on a rusty balance



etc, repeating, gradually reducing volume until fading out half way through following passage


G.  in which all singers softly & intermittently sing a sustained note with very slight glissando.  When the soprano has faded out the high voices increase their glissando while the low voices drop to a bass drone. Volume increases then falls in a gradual fade. 




[Total duration about 15 minutes.]






Two Conductors



In its original form RMMV Asturias was a score for instruments and voices by Walt Shaw, recorded by Martin Archer’s Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere for their album OUA2 (Discus Records 2014).  The score was based on a collection of glass photographic slides and fragments of related documents found in a flea market.  The photographs, showing onboard scenes and with barely legible pencil annotations, record an early voyage of the long-serving ship which gives the piece its title.  Some of the material also appears in Shaw’s assemblage reproduced above.  Alan Halsey used more of the documents and annotations to develop the score for the 30-voice antichoir Juxtavoices.  It was first performed on 14 March 2015 at Halton Mill, Lancaster, UK. 










Walt Shaw is online at WaltShaw.co.uk/.  


Alan Halsey’s latest books are Rampant Inertia (Shearsman, 2014) and Versions of Martial (Knives Forks & Spoons, 2015).  A limited edition letterpress broadside of his After Sappho fr. 16 was recently published by Five Seasons Press.  From the Diaries of John Dee, a collaboration with Nigel Wood, is forthcoming from Apple Pie Editions.  Juxtavoices, which he co-directs with Martin Archer, released its first CD, Juxtanother Antichoir from Sheffield, on Discus Records in 2013.  Alan Halsey is online at West House Books



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