New York Sanctus is an installation that uses up to 40 radios to play back real-time recordings from radio stations around the world in the moments before news of the 9/11 tragedy breaks.

It fades from one broadcast to another giving an extraordinary glimpse of the last moments of an era and the beginning of another.

As each broadcast begins to relate news of the tragedy so that broadcast fades away and is replaced by a single singing voice so that, one by one, each radio becomes a single singing voice until eventually we find ourselves finally surrounded by a choir each voice on a separate radio.

How The Audience Experience ‘New York Sanctus’

For me the impact of the work is in not mentioning 9/11 at all but in allowing the deeply affecting innocence of chatter around the world to speak for itself. Anyone listening understands that as we hear these voices profound and tragic events are unfolding that will change the world.

And as the singing voices slowly replace the real time broadcasts the audience is provided with an environment that invites them to take time to reflect deeply on the events of that day and their consequences.

Curating the Radio Broadcasts

My goal is to accurately reflect whatever I find in archival recordings. I have listened to a number so far (such as Howard Stern’s morning program and WNYC’s broadcast) and found a typically diverse collection of gossip, weather and traffic news and all manner of inanity – yet each becomes extraordinarily poignant once we are aware of its context.

Music Based on Prosody rather than Text.

Rather than a single ‘choir’ the work presents a collection of individuals singing together in that, each radio plays back only one voice, reminding us of the fact that behind the bulk statistics are individual lives and stories.

I do not want the work to be based on a text; it seems to me that no single text can fully embrace a collective expression  and even in choosing a language we must exclude other languages. Instead I want to use ‘prosody’ the melody of the spoken voice because, beyond words we speak a common musical language that linguists refer to as ‘prosody’ the melody of the voice.

I’ve always been fascinated by the music of the speaking voice. I’ve come to think of it as the ‘song of our inwardness’. The thing that encourages me is that when you listen to those melodies without words suddenly race, gender, politics, religion etc all disappear, and you’re left with love, grief, hope etc – sometimes it’s good to remember such things.

So my hope is to use the melodic prosody of speech somewhat in the way Bach or Beethoven might use musical motives to create a choral work that expresses the universality of the experience of being human and that engenders our compassion, for those that were lost and suffered through the terrible events of 9/11 and it’s consequences and, perhaps, in a more general sense, to create a work that helps us reflect on our shared experience more deeply.

The Intention of the Piece

As one individual artist all I can hope to do is to create my response to such an event and offer it back to the world in hopes that it resonates and perhaps has value in deepening the shared experience.

An installation has the benefit of an unlimited artistic lifespan – once created it can be installed in any suitably quiet and contemplative space in the world in a year, ten years or a hundred years time. It can be replicated to become both a permanent and touring installation, so it could be permanently in New York and London while temporarily in Beijing, Amsterdam, etc.

“Pete… has proven to be a master of communicating subtle layers of emotion through many types of music…  He is one of the very, very few composers I would expect to handle a 9/11 memorial piece with the appropriate musical and emotional touch.”

John Schaefer, WNYC