Song of Contagion: The Music

This sequence of five videos is taken from the film of the whole show as performed at Wilton's Music Hall in June 2017, available on DVD from Grand Union, and forms a complete record of the performance. The whole sequence. 75 minutes duration, can also be played continuously via this Playlist on Youtube.

Cholera, rampant in London in Victorian times, was eventually eradicated by building the sewage system London still benefits from today. but no such steps were taken in Kolkata, where the disease remains endemic today.


Only when the gay community and sympathetic activists drew attention to the rising death toll from AIDS/ HIV did the media,  then public opinion, stir  the government into funding research, and ultimately developing effective drug treatments. 


For decades, millions of people in Africa have suffered from dengue fever, and even when the disease reached the Caribbean no-one took any notice. But when Zika, carried by the same mosquito, threatened the Brazil Olympics, it really hit the headlines.


The consumption of sugar, encouraged by the junk food industry, is the leading cause of deaths from coronary heart disease throughout the world...


Since the end of the first world war, shell-shock in combatants (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) has begun to be taken seriously and treated as an illness; but no such treatment has been extended to the unwitting victims of conflict, the  'collateral damage'.


Tony Haynes is writing about the music in greater detail on his monthly blog. The first of these posts, describing the composition of ACTIVISM, appears here. Here are his general notes on the composition...

The idea that Elizabeth originally put to me was that you might ‘hear’ the profile of a particular disease by matching a statistical parameter – who, where and how many are affected, whether it attracts funding or media attention and so on – with a musical one. I have tried to follow this principle quite faithfully throughout my composition, albeit interpreted sometimes quite freely, and adding lyrics for clarity. Here are some examples.

The strength or quality of the harmony reflects infrastructure (or lack of it). For example, the cholera section is based on a scale which is also an Indian raga. In the Indian sections (characteristic of Indian classical music) there is no harmony, simply a drone and later a repetitive rhythmic bass riff; whereas in London – as the drains are built! – the harmony becomes progressively richer and quite chromatic, though based on the same scale. In Activism, the trombones and trumpets alone are harmonised, because government and Big Pharma have infrastructure.

Similarly, complexity of rhythm reflects degrees of media attention (notably in the Mosquito Dances); pitch and volume the intensity of activity; texture the weight of public opinion; and so on. In addition, the varied cultural backgrounds of the performers themselves help define place and context.

Above all, melody (paradoxically) is associated with voices otherwise unheard, and those least heard get the strongest, most striking melodies; The Silent Wound is the richest in this respect. Furthermore, melodies combined in counterpoint can result in harmony – but it is a harmony created by individuals in a spirit of solidarity and support, not an infrastructure provided or imposed by the state or big business.

You may be able to hear all this, but it is not really necessary. Mathematicians may need to show their workings, but for artists it is only the result than counts!

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