new music-theatre for 5 performers, a deck of cards and instrumental ensemble


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Click the mp3 player below to hear a chilllingly chaotic moment in the climax of DARKNESS...


"DARKNESS is the first major work using purely theatrical resources - presented in a musical fashion.  It is a work based on the use of a set of cards comparable to a standard deck, although they are significantly different, containing text fragments.  It was inspired by a poem of the same name by Byron.  The cards containing texts which five readers have to read from, and its is this reading which forms the basis of the work.  There are instrumental parts which react to different texts as the readers work through the deck of cards.  The work uses five excerpts from Byron's poem which are alternately whispered and read out loud y the readers.   There are four solo speeches which are heard above the repetition of the other text.  These are important and dramatic excerpts (solo speeches) from the poem and are read only once.  There are also cards for moaning/hysterical laughter etc.  The effect is a literal 'asylum' of sound that emerges from a sea of whispering.  Ended by a loud scream, a short passage of silence and the final speech (the end of the poem) which is read slowly and with a feeling of desolateness.  The purpose of the work was to express the fear that we all hold in our subconscious of the world coming to an end, possibly in a horrible way (as expressed in Byron's poem) and if using readers with expressive voices that have projection, the work can be disturbing.  Byron's Darkness is a very powerful piece of writing, and this work is important to me because it shows I was looking for new ways to express the power of literature.  Because of the nature of the readings, most of the instrumental writing had to be improvisatory.  This also made me look at new forms of instrumental writing that would give the instrumentalists enough flexibility to play in the work, and retain the correct feeling for that part of the piece.  It is very much a New Music-Theatre work in its own right."

    - Zachar Laskewicz



Darkness is a vocal work for five performers who are required to read from a deck of prepared cards, and instrumental accompaniment that consist of flute or recorder, bassoon, piano and two percussion players.  Instrumental parts are loosely scored according to cues from the vocal performers.

This composition uses text excerpts taken from a short piece of prose written by Lord Byron.  In this work, Byron describes in frightening and exquisite detail the downfall of humanity through a symbolic extinguishing of the sun.  This text was chosen because of the horrific reality that must be faced by everyone in contemporary life; the everpresence of the the threat of nuclear war and the greenhouse effect.  The purpose of Darkness is to represent the frightening subject of Byron's poem in a musical form, but where the text itself is used as the musical material.  Only in this way can the true horror within the text surface.


Instructions for performance

The diagram below demonstrates approximate positions for readers and instrumentalists in a performance.  A thin gauze-like screen is set up centre stage, and this should allow the sillhouettes of the readers who sit behind the screen to be visible.  The Darkness cards are set on a small table, around which five seats are positioned for use by the readers.  There are no other special requirements for the appearance of the stage.  The performers should be dressed in black.  

Performance begins in semi-darkness.  Instrumentalists are already positioned on stage.  The readers walk to their positions in a slow procession, holding lighted candles, and the light gradually rises to a standard level. The performers sit on the seats behind the screen and they place the candles on the table.  The flickering light of the candles should help to cast the shadows of the performers on the screen.  To begin Darkness, the readers pick one of the top cards.  A designated reader then cues the instruments to being the composition.  After the readers have finished a card, they discard it and pick another.During the performance (which takes around 12-15 minutes), the lighting gradually falls until al that remains is the flickerng of the candle light.  At the climactic scream, the candles are simultaneously extinguished, leaving the last speech recited in total darkness.


Reading the cards

The text forms the musical substance for this composition, although only at certain times can sections of the text be understood in the form of solo speeches that are shouted above the vocalizations of the other performers.  The five readers whisper, moan, shout and scream the text simultaneously, which forms the structure around which the music develops.  The instrumentalists play a secondary role in this musical expression through reacting to changes in the text.

The unspecified assignation of the cards introduces a random element into the composition.  However, any particular card can be assigned to a particular reader if it is felt that that performer can read it the most convincingly.  This is especially true for the solo speeches that must be clearly heard by the instrumentalists. The degree to which the cards are randomly assigned is essentially up to the performers.  All readers are silent directly after the silent scream, and as the last speech is performed in darkness, it is one that certainly must be assigned (and learnt by heart) before the performance begins.


Reading the instrumental parts

The instrumental parts are loosely scored, and are in fact largely improvisatory.  The parts are divided into four sections, and act as loose divisions within the composition that are divided by vocal cues.  These cues are from the readers in all the instrumental parts, except the piano part which starts right at the beginning of the composition (cued by one of the readers).  The highlighted words on the instrumental parts indicate the text the player must listen for, and show when in that reading the instrument begins playing, indicated by an arrow (see diagram below).  Instructions on how the music should be played, how long it is played for, dynamics, speed and other important factors are described beneath the music.  The instrumentalists stops plying what he was doing previously and moves further into the score when he hears the next cue.  All instruments stop playing as soon as they hear the final scream.    

The first major performance of Darkness took place on the 16th of Aril 1989 to end the Evos Youth Ensemble's Night Shades concert.  The performers were as follows:



Zachar Laskewicz, Julia Ife, Scott Aaronson, Eleanor Wycherley, Lindsay Vickery.



Ross Bolleter - Piano

Rowan Hammond - Percussion 1

Cameron Neylon - Percussion 2

Sarah Collins - Bassoon

Julie Burleigh - Recorder


- Composed by Zachar Laskewicz in 1989




May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)
Send mail to zachar@nachtschimmen.eu with questions or comments about this website.

Last modified:
May 30, 2008