McLibel (Davidson, Robert)
Australian Music Centre, 2000
|Year/Date of Composition||2000|
|Instrumentation||alto/soprano saxophone, violin, viola, double bass, CD/DVD|
Program Note: The longest trial in English history, concluded in 1997, pitted a gardener and a postman against the world's largest fast-food business. Helen Morris and Dave Steel were part of a campaign accusing McDonald’s of a wide range of evils from exploiting children to harming animals. After hiring seven private eyes to infiltrate the group, the company decided to deal with the problem by taking advantage of Britain's libel laws, in which the burden of proof lies with the accused. When served libel writs in 1990, Dave Morris and Helen Steel (unlike anyone McDonald's had ever sued for libel before) decided to take them on.
Thus began a David and Goliath story I found irresistible. So, from Franny Armstrong’s McLibel documentary, I took the voices of the chief participants - the two defendents, McDonald's UK President Paul Preston, British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn - and made music out of them.
Speech-generated melody has a long history, notably with Harry Partch and the operas of Janacek. Scott Johnson's 1986 album John Somebody took advantage of precise digital control to introduce the idea of melody, harmony and rhythm fully generated by speech. Steve Reich was quick to pick up on the potential of Johnson's technique, and has used it in the majority of his works since 1987.
In McLibel, one aim is to extend this technique to create sustained melodies, using functional triadic harmony to support their direction. These are miniature voice portraits - each person has their own characteristic speech patterns, from Helen's rather shy intoning on a few notes, to Dave's emphatic leaping intervals, to Paul Preston's appropriately upbeat Eisenhower-era rock'n'roll intonation.