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 constantly renewed in unexpected ways by changing conditions; weather, seasons, times of day, the company we keep, sounds and smells, and the surrounding culture.

I have always been fascinated with the idea that layers of history leave contours and 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 time and my walks often involve tracing the routes of disused railways, canals and ancient tracks.

Through these songs I aim to steer a listener’s attention to the smaller details. In an age when there is ubiquitous use of headphones and a consumption of music
as a commodity or mood-enhancer, I feel
my role as a composer is to reclaim a more mindful listening mode. Discovering Robert Macfarlane’s recent book Landmarks, which reconnects us via lost words to a keener sense of seeing, was a catalyst for the project. It brought together my ideas about a sense of place and my hopes for keener musical listening.

In Place is a gathering together of feelings, associations, geographical details,
regional identities, dialects, place names, personal memories, imagined routes, and historical connections. To help in this I have commissioned new texts 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 songs, enabling the piece to be diverse, multi-dimensional and hopefully, unexpected. Colin Riley