In the middle 1970s I began to formulate ideas and projects leading to the making of music outside the concert halls—often in large open and naturally beautiful sites. Ports, rivers, lakes, caves, quarries, fields, and woods, always ready sources of my musical inspiration, now became my new music theaters. —Alvin Curran
Maritime Rites is a series of ten environmental concerts for radio composed by Alvin Curran (b. 1938) in 1985. This series features the Eastern Seaboard of the United States as a musical source in collaboration with improvised musical performances by ten distinguished artists in the American new-music scene: John Cage, Joseph Celli, Clark Coolidge, Jon Gibson, Malcolm Goldstein, Steve Lacy, George Lewis, Pauline Oliveros, Leo Smith and Alvin Curran. The programs use specifically recorded natural sounds as musical counterpoint to the soloists whose improvisations are freely restructured and mixed by Curran. Featured here are the foghorns of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. Also included are maritime bells, gongs, whistles and regional bird and animal life. Comments from lighthouse keepers, Coast Guard personnel and other local people are woven impressionistically throughout.
Rich in ambient detail, Maritime Rites presents the foghorn as indigenous American “found” music par excellence and the source of one of the most enduring minimal musics around us. The series is also a comprehensive aural documentary of our regional and national maritime heritage including such historical sounds as the Nantucket II Lightship, now out of service and doing service as a museum docked in Boston Harbor. The Lightship’s horn is the only one of its kind (and the loudest!) on the East coast and was recorded extensively during an exclusive session ten miles off shore with the special cooperation of the ship’s crew. As the foghorn gives way to other electronic navigational aids, this work may serve as a historical document of some of the most beautiful and mysterious sounds of the sea.
As an expression of sonic geography, Maritime Rites brings together different areas of the Seaboard in a single musical moment. The series was expressly conceived for radio, the only medium that can safely accommodate over sixty foghorns at once and bring an entire coastline, seemingly live, into anyone’s home! An essential document for anyone interested in sound art.