Owl Song (Uilenzang)

for six voices (four female, two male) and audience (2008, 8’)

first performance: Heiloo/The Netherlands, Willibrord-Kapel, July 17th 2008, by VOCAALLAB (conductor Romain Bischoff)

Owl Song (original Dutch title Uilenzang, Latin subtitle Cantus Strigidarum) was written for Romain Bischoff and VocaalLAB, now Silbersee, in May and June 2008. It is a work for four female singers, two male singers and you: the audience.

In Marinissen’s home country the Netherlands, eight owl species are present: the barn owl (Tyto alba), short-eared owl (Asio flammeus), snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus), tawny owl (Strix aluco), boreal owl (Aegolius funereus), little owl (Athene noctua), eagle owl (Bubo bubo) and long-eared owl (Asio otus). The text of Owl Song consists exclusively of the Latin names of the eight owl species.

A section of the piece is dedicated to each of those species, in the above order. The duration of each of the sections corresponds with the size of the population of each of the species. Since the snowy owl, the boreal owl and the eagle owl are just visitors to the Netherlands, they get the shortest sections. The music is not based on the song of the various owl species, but can be considered a vocal homage to those wonderful birds. However, musical interpretations of specific attributes of the various owls can be found in some sections.

In the last section of Owl Song, dedicated to the long-eared owl, the singers start calling or shouting the Latin name of the long-eared owl, and batting their arms. This is a sign for the audience to start making bird sounds, with the voice or with handed out bird whistles. When the chaos has become complete, the tenor singer, who so far has not been present, appears with a huge whip. When he hits the air, the audience starts undulating the programme leaflet, like a bird flapping their wings and lifting off…

This is followed by the singers humming a long soft note. The undulating of programme leaflets dies out, and the audience astarts humming along, meanwhile listening to the tenor solo. He sings a short fragment from Louis Couperus’ Dutch novel Psyche:

“De nacht was donderzwoel, de bloemen hingen uitgeput, de nachtegaal stiet een kreet, en zij dacht, dat het een uil was. Vleermuizen slapperden rond met flapperende vlerken.” (“The night was sultry like thunder, the flowers hung down exhaustedly, the nightingale cried, and she thought it was an owl. Bats limped around with flapping wings.”)

At the end of this melody, the long hummed note is stopped by the solo tenor by a delicate finger cut. After that, each of the singers does a finger cut too. The audience may do the same: a finger cut, once, delicately …

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