Guillaume DUFAY (1397-1474)/Ambrose FIELD
Being Dufay (2007)
Ma belle dame souveraine [5:29]
Je me complains [6:22]
Being Dufay [12:21]
Je vous pri [7:48]
Presque quelque chose [2:30]
Sanctus [8:34]
La dolce vista [6:24]
John Potter (tenor)
Ambrose Field (live and studio electronics)
rec. 2007, Bishopthorpe, Yorkshire. Mixed 2008, Rainbow Studio, Oslo
ECM NEW SERIES 2071 [49:32]

John Potter is best known for the many years of his excellent work with the Hilliard Ensemble, but he has had experience of many different musical environments over the years. He was a member of Swingle II, Ward Swingle’s English ensemble; he put in stints backing such luminaries as Mike Oldfield, Manfred Mann and The Who. All this happened before he joined the Hilliard Ensemble in 1984 – he sang with them for eighteen years – so too did a spell working with John Whiting in a voice and electronic duo. A post-Hilliard incarnation was as Reader in Music at the University of York. A colleague in the music department in York was Ambrose Field. Field is best known as a composer working with digital technologies - he has won several awards from Linz’s Prix Ars Electronica. Field’s page on the website of York’s music department describes his research interests as “Composition, Post-modernism, Crossing Genre and Style Boundaries in Music”. We need hardly be surprised that Potter and Field should have found themselves collaborating. The results are rewarding and intriguing.

The third track here, ‘Being Dufay’, apparently had its origins in a commission for a festival held in Vigevano (in Lombardy); the suite which now carries the same title has been performed live on a number of occasions, generally accompanied by films made by Michael Lynch (see This multi-media presentation has attracted very favourable reviews in both Europe and Australia.

Even without Lynch’s visual input, as on this CD, Being Dufay is a satisfying experience. Apart from the voiceless ‘Presque quelque chose’, each track features John Potter’s singing of melodies and words from Dufay’s songs; these vocal interpretations are elaborated upon, transformed, commented upon, supplemented, introduced, decorated, absorbed, processed, hidden, revealed – and much else – by Field’s electronic input. Just as Dufay often worked with pre-existing musical materials, employing them as the cantus firmus for his own compositional activity, so here Dufay’s melodies themselves are made to serve a similar role (though that it not to say that they are simply made subservient) in Field’s work. The precise process varies from track to track, though there is a methodological unity to the disc heard whole. In ‘Ma belle dame souveraine’, for example, Potter’s voice emerges from, and disappears into, what one experiences as an electronic evocation of space, creating illusions both of surrounding silence and distance and of a containing resonance. Elsewhere Field creates what one might, by analogy, think of as a kind of film music, related to the ‘story’ told - or more accurately implied - by the brief fragments of Dufay’s music and text. It is interesting that Field’s own booklet notes include the phrase “full audio technicolor” to describe the effect created at the close of ‘Je me complains’. At times the electronic sounds dominate and enclose, even submerge, Potter’s voice; at others the electronic materials are altogether more fugitive, no more than gestures of sound, as it were, evanescent and on the very borders of silence. Sometimes the sounds Potter produces are in no way mimetic; at others one hears unmistakable allusions to, say, the song of birds.

Those who remain suspicious of electronic music are urged to give this a listen. It is music which persuasively invites the listener’s attention. In Being Dufay the early composer’s lines (verbal and musical) are forgotten and remembered, uttered anew in a different world from that in which they had their origins, being recreated in a fashion which effectively acknowledges our necessarily fractured, but fascinated, relationship to music that comes to us from over a half a millennium ago. Being Dufay enacts both that music’s innate enduring strength and its historical fragility, movingly articulates the tenuity of our hold on it. This often very beautiful disc, explores the ways in which accessing the music of the past necessarily involves our re-creating it, demonstrates how we can choose to make it ‘authentic’ for ourselves in a manner quite distinct from the ‘historical’ authenticity pursued by many Early Music practitioners.

Glyn Pursglove