Mapping music with Glynde

Guest blog by Ewan Campbell, composer of Glynde.

In many ways cartography is to a landscape, what music notation is to sound. They both use two-dimensional visualisations to represent something which is multi-dimensional, and in the process create a beautiful pictorial format of their own. My map enthusiasm is driven by a desire for the overview that a maps offers, and the scope to explore the virtual depiction of a landscape.

There is however a crucial difference between the two idioms: music is always experienced through the temporal dimension, and time, as we know it, can only ever run forwards. No matter how many repeats, verses, loops or recapitulations a composer may decide to add there is always a beginning which at some moment later must be followed by an ending. As a result traditional music notation is linear, and read forwards like a book. The aim of my cartographic music is to make the musical form visible. The 2-dimensional score offers a structural overview of the virtual musical soundscape, which can be imaginatively entered into, just as one would ‘read’ a topographical map.

Glynde, by Ewan Campbell

Many of my cartographic scores incorporate map-derived concepts such as roads, junctions, borders, and even a river delta in one early piano piece. Often the performer has a degree of freedom to navigate their own path through the map of musical fragments – as a hill walker uses a map to find their route through a landscape, so too can a performer use a cartographic score to make strategic structural decisions during performance. There are some precursors to this concept in the musical world, with pieces such as Stockhausen’s 2-dimensional Klavierstüke XI from 1955, but I believe there is huge potential for more innovation.

A musical tube map

In recent works I have taken to writing directly onto existing maps, and my first iteration of this idea was of a piece using the London tube map, in which musical fragments replace the tube stations. London, he felt fairly certain, had always been London was written for The Hermes Experiment, an ensemble of four players: voice, clarinet, harp and double bass, each of which play from their own map. They play it frequently in the city, always starting together from the nearest tube station but diverging freely after that. No two performances are the same, even though they may contain the same music, which seems like the only fair representation of a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, multi-experiential city such as London.


Glynde is my first collaboration with Ordnance Survey, and involves using the contour lines of a topographical map as the five lines of a musical stave. The map is of a hill near Lewes, in East Sussex, which features the Glyndebourne opera house, and hence is written for a solo soprano, using an existing piece of British operatic music as its basis: Henry Purcell’s Dido’s Lament.

This lament begins with the line “When I am laid in earth”, and was chosen due to the historical significance of Saxon Down as a burial ground. However, the music also has an intimate relationship with the natural landscape itself, and hence with the topographical map. The musical stave (which begins and ends straight) is contorted by the landscape deviating up valleys, looping around quarries, and digressing wildly along a ridge. These contortions trigger musical deviations, and the result is a refracted and distorted version of this famous aria melody. The musical staves chart a path around the hill, remaining always at the same elevation, and I like to imagine walking the route whilst singing the music.

A music video, featuring operatic singer Heloise Werner’s performance of the composition, and Charley’s music map as a background, was created by Classic FM: https://www.facebook.com/ClassicFM/videos/10156559128709260/


You may also like

When real world mapping meets Tolkien
Britain’s most complex motorway junctions 
Join us at the UK Mapping Festival
Making antique maps more accessible

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name* :

Email* :