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Whale Songs: Poetry, Music & Film with Lesley Harrison, Alex South & Katherine Wren

Friday 22nd September, 7pm - 8.30pm BST
Main Hall King's Pavilion, King's College Campus University of Aberdeen  

Whale Songs: Cetacea and The Voyage of the Fox, two poem sequences with music and film, created and performed by poet Lesley Harrison, clarinettist and improviser Alex South and Nordic Viola leader and composer Katherine Wren. The pieces explore their collective interest in animal song and the cultures and music of the North Atlantic, the theme of the voyage of the 19thcentury whalers to the polar seas, and the cultural aftermath of the whaling industry.

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In Cetacea, the trio’s music and words meet with marine biologist Michael Scheer’s recordings of pilot whales and Alexander and Nicole Gratovsky’s underwater footage: ‘as close as we can get to improvising with whales.’


Lesley Harrison lives and works on the Angus coastline near Arbroath. In her poetry and prose she explores the tentative human process of using language to conjure a world around ourselves. She has published six collections of poetry, including Beyond the Map (Mariscat), Disappearance (Shearsman) and Blue Pearl (New Directions). She has held writing residencies in Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard, and The Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University. “Harrison brings oceans inside her rooms and catches the salt air of faraway places in these astonishing poems,” says Kirsty Gunn of Lesley’s latest collection, Kitchen Music. “Lesley Harrison is a writer of consistent brilliance,” says John Glenday. “Kitchen Music is a meticulously crafted Northern Hymnal … essential reading for anyone keen to understand why poetry remains a unique force for change on this planet.”


Alex South is a musician with a focus on contemporary and improvised music, and especially on what he calls multispecies musicking. Based in Scotland, he regularly plays clarinet and bass clarinet with Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, Collective Endeavours, and Ensemble Thing. In Alex’s research with composer Emily Doolittle at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and biologists Luke Rendell and Ellen Garland at the University of St Andrews, he has used scientific and musicological tools to deepen our insight into humpback whale song rhythms. His musical output includes pieces jointly composed with Katherine Wren (Nordic Viola). Their ‘CETACEA’, inspired by Lesley Harrison’s poem of the same name, was referred to as “keening lines of whale song; a beautiful study” by The Wire. Other works by Alex have been performed by Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, Sequoia, and St Andrews Chamber Orchestra, and featured in ‘The Musical Animal’, broadcast in Canada by the CBC.


Katherine Wren studied music at the University of Manchester and the Royal Northern College of Music. She is a currently a member of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra where, alongside orchestral playing, she has a passion for contemporary music and audience engagement. In September 2016 she formed Nordic Viola, a flexible ensemble performing and promoting music from the countries encircling the North Atlantic. Nordic Viola regularly perform in the Faroes, Iceland, Orkney and Shetland and are frequently invited to other events and venues to performing newly commissioned pieces and to showcase local musicians and composers. Several of these pieces are being recorded for a forthcoming CD, due out later this year. Katherine received a Special Commendation in the 2020 RPS/ABO Salomon Prize “a fulfilling new experience for players that has forged lasting links with these communities.” She has been shortlisted twice for a Scotland New Music Award.

This event is supported by

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