Peter Rose: Witness

Siren

Siren (1990)is a two-channel work that proposes an "operatic" rendering of W.H.Hudson's "Green Mansions," a strange tale about journeys in the jungle, mysterious voices, and metaphysical tongues. The sound track is entirely vocal and the computer-animated text/libretto was generated on a MacIntosh computer.


Away on my left, the evening uproar of the howling monkeys burst out, and after three or four minutes ceased. The after silence was pierced at intervals by screams of birds going to roost among the trees in the distance, and by many minor sounds close at hand, of small bird, frog, and insect.

All at once, close to sounded a cry, fine and clear at first and rising at the end to a shriek so loud, piercing and unearthly in character that the blood seemed to freeze in my veins, and a despairing cry to heaven escaped my lips. Then, before that long shriek expired, a mighty chorus of thunderous voices burst forth around me; and in this awful tempest of sound I trembled like a leaf, and the leaves on the trees were agitated as if by a high wind, and the earth itself seemed to shake beneath my feet.

After that tempest of motion and confused noises, the silence of the forest seemed very profound; but before I had been resting many moments it was broken by a low strain of exquisite baird-melody, wonderuflly pure and expressive, unlike any musical sound I had ever hear before.

But its greatest charm was its resemblance to the human voice, a voice purified and brightened to something almost angelic. I rose at length reluctantly and slowly began making my way back. But when I had progressed about thirty yards, again the sweet voice sounded just behind me, and turning quickly I stood still and waited.

The same voice, but not the same song, not the same phrase, the notes were different, more varied and rapidly enunciated, as if the singer had been more excited. The utterance was different in character, with fewer silent intervals, nor ever once sunk to that low, whisper-like talking, which had seemed to me as if the spirit of the wind had breathed its low signs in syllables and speech.

The blood rushed to my heart as I listened, my nerves tingled with a strange new delight, the rapture produced by such music heightened by a sense of mystery.

What feelings and fancies, what turns of expression, unfamiliar to my mind, were contained in those sweet, wasted, inarticulate sounds; a tender spiritual music, a language without words.

There were pauses now, intervals of silence, long or short, and after each one the voice came to my ear with a more subdued and dulcet sound. Strange as this voice without a body was, it seemed impossible to doubt that it came to me now in a spirit of pure friendliness, which I began to interpret as of command or entreaty.

Was it, I asked myself, inviting me to follow? And if I obeyed, to what delightful discoveries or frightful dangers might it lead?

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