Army @ The Fringe in Association with Summerhall
15.30 (run ends 22nd Aug, not 21st)
Towards the end of the second World War, army signaller Dennis Marshall wrote a series of letters to his fiancée, Barbara. His grandson, Tom Poulson, is an accomplished trumpeter: with composer Alistair MacDonald, and under the guidance of director Susan Worsfold, he offers a meditation in sound on the letters’ contents.
We had a brief introduction to Dennis – how he met Barbara at a village dance, and married her after the war, Tom being her grandson. I was fascinated to learn that he was a socialist pacifist, who nonetheless joined the army: I would have loved to have heard more about how he managed to reconcile his pacifism with his commitment to serving the war effort, but that was not to be.
Tom began by reading us the long, detailed letter Dennis wrote to Barbara the night before VE Day and then began to play a reflective, melancholy solo. Alistair took samples of Tom’s notes, added echoes, repeats, and other things I don’t know how to describe, and together they created a soundscape which we were invited to enter and inhabit. More letters, more improvisations followed, with widely-differing moods, rhythms, sounds and textures.
At one point we opened and read the letter we had each been given – fascinating to see the tiny, clear, writing from December 7th 1944, talking about a recent 48-hour leave in Brussels, the people he met, the films he saw, the shopping he did on behalf of other people, mentioning the possibility of home leave and describing a run-in with the sergeant-major. It all seemed so far removed from the horrors of conflict – but then maybe that’s what you get when you’re in signals?
The music, based on the Last Post trumpet salute, was endlessly fascinating – not only the incredible range of sounds that can be coaxed out of a trumpet, not just musical notes, muted or clear, but also a vast range of percussive sounds made with tongue, lips, and maybe even teeth on the mouthpiece, by tapping the bell with a mute, and simply by breathing through the instrument: all this sampled, mixed, jumbled and echoed, with Tom able to duet, trio and even quartet with himself.
This was a well-conceived and well-executed show, which the audience greatly appreciated. I’m not quite sure why it appears under the auspices of Army@theFringe – maybe part of the ‘we’re not just a killing machine’ image that is currently being presented to us – but the music was fantastic.