Buying the Wind is a timely collaboration with the Kreutzer Quartet and poet Hannah Lowe. Through music and words, we’re exploring the UK’s deep connection with wind and tide – elemental forces that make up our country’s defiantly porous border. We’re excavating partial archives, half-memories, extant folklore and more, combining music and poetry to conjure all that’s been carried to our shores. Ships filled with people, words, ideas and artefacts have helped to shape this island of diverse, highly connected souls.
At the heart of this project is a new piece for two solo voices, string quartet and live electronics, incorporating words from Hannah Lowe. This lineup is a departure for me as I more usually compose works for my own live performance. Thanks to generous support from the PRS for Music Foundation Composer’s Fund, I’m able to put together an ensemble to workshop, rehearse and perform this work. I’m keen to hear this piece performed in the UK. I also hope it will cross the seas without me and be interpreted by others.
A persistent myth: Buying the Wind
The title of this project refers to the ancient sailors’ superstition of throwing a coin into water to assuage the spirits and bring a fair wind – a ritual that’s persisted for centuries. I was inspired by some notes in Edward Lovett’s Magic in Modern London (1925). In his book, the folklorist and city explorer records sailors in Billingsgate nailing coins to the mast to bring a good passage. The former home of London’s fish market, Billingsgate was built on a Viking settlement. Lovett also writes about women on the East coast of Britain selling sailors ‘magical’ knotted string. The string could be untied, knot by knot, to vie for better sailing winds. Knotted string was also sold in Newfoundland, itself a Viking settlement. Arguably the ritual of ‘buying wind’ persists to this day, in disassociated form, every time we throw a coin into a fountain.
Hannah and I are looking for other instances of ‘buying wind’ in books, poems folk tales or local folklore. If you know of an instances, we’d love to hear from you.
Wood engraving by G H Andrews. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)