A poem by Katrina Porteous and composer Peter Zinoviev, inspired by the White Horse of Uffington, a 3,000 year old image cut into the chalk of an Oxfordshire hillside.
'Horse' is a new poem for radio by the Northumbrian poet Katrina porteous and the composer and electronic music pioneer Peter Zinoviev. It was commissioned by Radio 3 for Between the Ears, its series for innovative feature making, for the first time performed and recorded in front of a live audience, at the Free Thinking Festival in The Sage, Gateshead.
The poem is inspired by a 3,000 year old figure of a horse, cut into the chalk of a hill near Uffington, that leaps across the Oxfordshire landscape. It is scored for two voices, the poet and the actor Steven Hawksby, and two computers, played by Zinoviev, who developed the machine that made Dalek voices possible and the synthesizer used by Pink Floyd on 'Dark Side of the Moon'. He has also worked with Stockhausen and Harrison Birtwistle.
All the sounds used in the music are derived from recordings which Peter Zinoviev made of King Harry Ferry, which crosses the River Fal in Cornwall on huge chains. Katrina Porteous found rhythms and word-sounds in Zinoviev's initial recordings, and he responded to these as he manipulated the recordings, so the music and words grew out of the same source.
'Horse' is a poem of many voices - performed by two. Actor Steve Hawksby shadows the leading voice of Katrina Porteous. There are echoes and chants, electronic and spoken, derived from Northumbrian dialect words associated with farming and metal-working. These suggest an older language buried beneath this one, which at moments emerges out of music into speech then sinks back into music.
The piece connects the horse with its chalk landscape, which is itself a huge natural auditorium, with the sky and stars - especially the constellation we know as the Plough, of which the figure can seen as a reflection, and its Bronze Age past. The site is associated with the legend of Wayland the Blacksmith, who gives his name to a nearby Neolithic burial cairn. 'Horse' contains the echoes and distant fires of metal-working.
Immediately beside the Uffington Horse is the hill where St George is said to have slaughtered the Dragon. At sunset around the time of the winter solstice, a dramatic winged figure seems to emerge from the ridge of that hill, cutting across the exact spot where the horse is carved. So the piece evokes the metamorphosis of Horse into Dragon and the ambiguity of these two figures.
The poem also chronicles the place of horses in English culture, how and why horses are still so imaginatively important.
Although the poem recalls 3,000 years of human history around the horse, it places this within the much deeper history of the chalk landscape, created millions of years ago beneath the sea. The overall sense of 'Horse' is that these massive creative processes are still at work all around us, and also within us.
Producer: Julian May.