Only recently has it become possible to listen to the sounds generated by the movement of rock, gasses and molten lava deep beneath the earth’s surface. In particular, the movement of superheated and liquefied rock (magma) represents some of the most complex and dynamic material activities on our planet. Magma behaves very much like water, except that it is ‘contained’ within areas and tunnels that force it (sometimes) into enormous and violent changes of pressure and velocity.
It is this ‘containment’ and the subsequent building and dispersal of energies that forms the basis of this piece. I’ve tried to utilise my study of the stresses, fractures shearing and slipping of rocks and molten lava in order to stimulate (in the listener) an awareness of the power of this phenomenon. But it is not a transcription of the actual sounds of the magma (even the recordings that exist of it are modified and translated simply because in the usual sense, magma doesn’t sound underground), rather this is a study inspired not by what magma sounds like, but by what it does.
The dedicatee of this work, Frank Arnott, was a geophysicist with a deep interest in the ‘sounding earth’ and when I asked him (shortly before he died) what he’d like a composer to do as a reflection of his life and interests his response was ‘ some kind of earth-chant.... A hymn made by the parts of the earth beneath us and normally unseen and unheard’. The liturgical name, ‘Psalm’, suggests reverence and ritual, and that’s what lies beneath the surface of this piece.