Tenebrae is the Latin word for "darkness" or "shadows". Apart from the chant of the Lamentations (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), the most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of Our Lord, remains. Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of darkness. At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of resurrection, the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.
I decided to make a musical analog of this service by equating light and sound, darkness and silence. Coinciding with the lighting and extinguishing of candles, sounds will appear and then gradually disappear , sonically traversing the acoustic space of the Chapel. The word "Sounding" refers not only to the analogy of light and sound in this service, but also to the process of listening to the Chapel's acoustics, like the "sounding" of a river-bottom. We navigate in the world by listening as much as by seeing, though we are often less conscious of it.
The service begins with a reading of Psalm 150, which imparts "Praise him with strings and pipe, praise him with resounding cymbals". The violin follows with a Norwegian fiddle tune, which triggers electronic responses from my computer-music system that projects its sounds into four corners of the chapel. As each candle is lit in a different part of the chapel, a variation on the tune is played from that location, and a dialog is created between the acoustic sound of the violin, its natural echoes, and the electronic sounds which move through the space. There are fourteen different variations and candles, each to correspond with a line of Lamentations , and a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
When the final candle has been lit, the process reverses itself and they are extinguished one by one, each accompanied by the reading of one line from The Song of Hezekiah . The sounding is done by a call-and-response between two pair of Tibetan bells (played like cymbals), which trigger electronic transformations of themselves through the Chapel. They gradually disappear like the light, until the dankness/silence prevails, only to be broken by the loud noise, and the return of the last candle.
In designing sound for this service, I intentionally blurred the distinction between sound and music. I wanted to make sounds that would encourage a listening to the room, more than to the musicians. The sounds that we make with our acoustic instruments trigger the sounds from the electronic instruments; but these responses are indirect and contain unpredictability or randomness. I intended by this to imitate the local unpredictability of everyday life, which occurs within the global, more predictable ebb and flow of natural forces, such as darkness and light.