A Song Cycle for the City of London: Locations and songs

Song lyrics and more information and images of each location.

Change Alley

New Oysters, Thomas Ravenscroft, 1609
56 seconds, two repetitions every 5 minutes, three channel sound installation

New Oysters! New Oysters! New Walefleet Oysters!
At a groat a peck, at a groat a peck
Each oyster worth two pence
Fetch us bread and wine that we may eat,
Let us lose no time with such good meat,
A banquet for a prince!

Change Alley is a network of alleyways situated near the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England. Once named the ‘Kingdom of Change Alley’, it is famous as the precursor to the London Stock Exchange with the real trading conducted in the Alley’s coffee houses. The trading in Change Alley is also infamous for the creation of the South Sea Bubble which Jonathan Swift recounts in his satirical verse: 

There is a gulf where thousands fell
Here all the bold Advent'rers came;
A narrow Sound, though deep as Hell
Change-Alley is the dreadful Name:
Nine times a Day it ebbs and flows
Yet he that on the Surface lies
Without a Pilot seldom knows
The Time it falls, or when 'twill rise.

 — Jonathan Swift

The idea of the trade in stocks and commodities in the City contrasts with the simple selling of oysters for the more uncomplicated pleasures of a well-prepared meal. The round is for three voices, one voice following the other in a layered cycle of singing.

Image: Change Alley, 21 August 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams

London Bridge

Flow My Tears, John Dowland, 1600
3 minutes 35 seconds, every 10 minutes, single channel sound installation

Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled forever, let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their lost fortunes deplore.
Light doth but shame disclose.

Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days
Of all joys have deprived.

From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my deserts
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.

Hark! You shadows that in darkness dwell,
learn to condemn light
happy, happy they that in hell
fell not the world's despite

The flow of the thousands of people who cross London Bridge every working day is mirrored in the flow of the water beneath the bridge. The lyrics of this beautiful song resonate with the dark underside of the bridge and reflect its darker mood. The River Thames can embody people’s darker emotions and it is a notorious place for people to disappear. As the voice is projected out across the water it rebounds off the architecture and appears to return invisibly from the middle of the Thames. The work also rhymes with the instrumental Lachrimae to which it is intimately related and brings the song cycle around full circle.

Image: London Bridge, 21 August 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams

Mark Lane

Oh My Love, Thomas Ravenscroft, 1609
21 seconds, every 5 minutes, four channel sound installation

Oh My Love, lov’st thou me?
Then quickly come and save him that dies for thee

This is a very simple round of unrequited love that has a charm that is immediate and beautiful. Built in the 14th century, the tower of All Hallows Staining Church is like a remnant from a previous age that has been left behind in the contemporary City. The lyrics may be interpreted as a dedication to the church or as if the church tower were calling out to the surrounding buildings. 


Image: St Olaves on Mark Lane, 22 August 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams

Milk Street

Lachrimae or Seaven Teares, John Dowland, 1604
36 minutes, continuous loop, seven channel installation

Lachrimae Antiquae (Old Tears)
Lachrimae Antiquae Novae (Old Tears Renewed)
Lachrimae Gementes (Sighing Tears)
Lachrimae Tristes (Sad Tears)
Lachrimae Coactae (Forced Tears)
Lachrimae Amantis (A Lover's Tears)
Lachrimae Verae (True Tears)

The uniform surfaces of the glass facades at the junction of Milk Street and Russia Row create a series of visual and acoustic reflections. The Lachrimae is a seven part instrumental piece based upon the image of a single falling tear. All seven Lachrimae have been interpreted and played independently, with each of the seven notes coming from its own individual speaker. The speakers are arranged throughout the space and for the most part the sound is abstract with the tune coming together in parts only to separate again. The piece is also suggestive of other sounds like distant traffic or the rubbing of the rim of a wine glass. 

Image: Milk Street, 22 August 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams

Moorfields Highwalk

Weep, O Mine Eyes, John Bennet, 1599
1 minute 58 seconds, every 5 minutes, four channel sound installation

Weep, O mine eyes, and cease not
Alas, these your spring tides me thinks increase not
O when begin you
To swell so high that I may drown me in you?
That I may drown me in you?

The madrigal was said to be an attempt to imitate the sound of angels' voices, one voice replacing the other as breath was drawn, to convey the illusion of continuous singing. The setting for this four-part madrigal is the elevated landscape of Moorfields Highwalk with its open courts and connecting passageways. The area has a desolate feel to it with un-let office space and a derelict telephone exchange enclosing the open spaces. The rise and fall of the voices in the madrigal suggest the ebb and flow of a tide of tears that builds up to a crescendo, an ocean of tears rising and falling on a concrete shore.

NoteMoorfields Highwalk is accessible via escalator from Moorgate Station or Barbican (Willoughby Highwalk), or by fully accessible by ramp from Fore Street/Moorfields.

Image: Moorfileds Highwalk, 22 August 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams

Tokenhouse Yard

The Silver Swan, Orlando Gibbons, 1612.
1 minute, 20 seconds, single channel installation

The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,
Thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
"Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
"More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.

In Daniel Defoe's account of the plague in London he describes: "Passing through Tokenhouse Yard, in Lothbury, of a sudden a casement violently opened just over my head, and a woman gave three frightful screeches, and then cried, 'Oh! death, death, death!" in a most inimitable tone, which struck me with horror, and a chilliness in my very blood. There was nobody to be seen in the whole street, neither did any other window open, for people had no curiosity now in any case, nor could anybody help one another." The melancholy atmosphere of the Yard is perfect for The Silver Swan. The lyrics are a metaphor for the end of an era, the end of the madrigal or maybe the Elizabethan musical tradition. They could also symobolise the end of capitalism or more general feelings of mourning and loss.

Image: Tokenhouse Yard, 22 August 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams