'Babylon' is a 30-minute piece for choir and percussion based around a libretto composed of texts from American folk sources (primarily recordings of Alan and John Lomax), combined with sacred texts all on themes of journeying and solitude. The work features three percussionists and a number of solos, including a soprano solo, alto solo, baritone solo and a number of short choral solos throughout the work.
The piece was premiered by the University of Aberdeen Chamber Choir, University of Aberdeen Percussion Ensemble, and conductor Michael Bawtree on 1 March 2018.
“I have always been fascinated by travel and distances. I’ve moved homes a fair amount in my life, as have many of us, and often have the bulk of my creative ideas while moving from place to place in some way or another. Much music throughout history has had a similar fascination – fitting for an art form that is so heavily based on movement through time, and of course drawing so necessarily on universal experiences. This is even more apparent in American culture, a fragmented culture built by immigrants (voluntary and forced), where so much of our folk music carries themes of journeying and pilgrimage and the solitude and alienation felt along the way. ‘Babylon’ takes a selection of these American folk texts and fashions them into a new work that uses new, contemporary musical ways to show that movement and that solitude. They are supported by sacred texts which carry the same themes, many of which are particular texts, images and stories that have worked their way into American folk music and art as well as the collective cultural consciousness. My hope is that it uses these themes to create a new musical experience appropriate to their prevalence in the present day."
‘‘The work started with a bang with a striking ‘call-to-arms’ on the haunting opening line ‘I am a stranger here’, the choir immediately called into action to realise Rimkus’s weaving contrapuntal vocal lines, replete with characteristic ‘blue’ notes and harmonic shifts. The music ebbed and flowed, often feeling like a tableaux of which we are viewing only a short fragment, but always powerful and well-judged. The emotional heart of the work was the fourth movement ‘Mama’ which brought forth a beautiful solo from within the choir that was gradually enveloped by the rest of the ensemble: one voice in a multitude of others, present but distant. Babylon ended with a faint murmur from the choir, returning to the opening line of the work, fading into the winter night, a spine-tingling moment in a piece of real substance and integrity." -Duncan Ferguson