A song-cycle, for voice and ensemble by Colin Riley

In Place has its roots deep in the loam of language and landscape. Colin Riley has set out to show how grained words are into our places, and places are into our words. He has made – with his numerous collaborators & contributors – a kind of musical deep-map, which it seems to me plots and celebrates one quality above all others: diversity. The voices that speak here come from many different communities, draw on different histories, even reach out to different species. Landscape here is no singular simplicity, and the smooth consolations of the pastoral are resisted at every turn. Instead we hear – we listen to – landscape as a polyphony, fabulous and irreducible in its complexity, to which this song-cycle is just one among countless testimonies. Robert Macfarlane


A place can make you feel many things. There is something very powerful about the intersection of a particular location and our moment in it. Places are rich. They are constantly renewed in fascinating ways by the changing weather and by times of day. They hold our memories. They are charged with an eerie sense of unease or can, by contrast, provide a returning sense of solace. It seems to me that layers of history leave contours and the imagined traces of those who have been in the same space before us. I love the way that ruins and industrial relics act as signs to how different a place would have been in a previous century. Tracing the routes of disused railways, canals and ancient tracks has been essential to most of my walks.

Rather like one of these walks my recent compositions have been exploring how smaller details might be brought to a listener’s attention. In an age when there is ubiquitous use of headphones and a consumption of music more as a kind of commodity or mood-enhancer, I feel the role of the composer is to reclaim a more mindful listening mode and to celebrate the details and potentially hidden intricacies of a piece of music.

Discovering Robert Macfarlane’s recent book ‘Landmarks’ was a catalyst for bringing together my ideas about a sense of place and the way we listen. It has become in many ways the gravity for the song cycle, introducing me to the work of several wonderful writers as well as Robert’s own words. It has most significantly highlighted the parallel between reconnecting via lost words to a keener sense of seeing and my hopes for keener musical listening.

In Place is a gathering together of ideas; feelings, associations, geographical details, regional identities, dialects, place names, personal memories, audio recordings, imagined routes, and historical connections. To help in this I have commissioned new writing from a broad range of writers for whom a sense of place is very much at the core of their work. These, along with a scattering of various existing texts, have become the lyrics for the ten songs. They have all in very different ways provoked and challenged me, enabling the piece to be diverse, multi-dimensional and hopefully unexpected. Colin Riley