Is this new music's Woodstock?

In 1971 the pacifists Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears purchased the Chapel House in Horham, Suffolk because the noise from US fighters flying from the RAF Bentwaters base near Aldeburgh was disturbing Britten's composing. It was in Horham he wrote his late works, Death in Venice, Phaedra and the Third String Quartet. Britten died in 1976, and RAF Bentwaters closed in 1993 at the end of the Cold War, after 43 years with a US presence on the base.

Now, in an inspiring example of 'we have overcome', Britten's Aldeburgh Festival, under the direction of Thomas Adès, is reclaiming RAF Bentwater, and on Saturday the former Cold War base joins Snape Maltings, the Jubillee Hall, and Orford Church as a festival venue. On June 9th the disused military facility hosts 'Faster Than Sound', a six hour sound event which joins the dots between music genres and digital art forms. During the evening artists from a wide range of backgrounds are collaborating and exploring the worlds of electronic music, contemporary classical practice and interactive visual arts.

There will be a range of immersive installations, musical collaborations, a wireless walk in the woods, illuminated cold war military buildings and a large dome filled with contemporary music - all the photos here were taken before the 2006 event. Sonic Arts Network are performing works by Luigi Nono, Iannis Xenakis, and Luc Ferrari, and other performers include Mira Calix and Tansy Davies. More details on the Faster Than Sound website.

On Saturday afternoon we are at Orford Church, where Britten's Curlew River was first performed and recorded by the composer, for a concert by the adventurous Exaudi. Their programme is Gesualdo, a UK premiere by Salvatore Sciarrino, Niccolo Castiglioni, Monteverdi, Giacinto Scelsi, and Luigi Nono. Then, together with many others, we will travel the short distance from the historic church to the Cold War base of RAF Bentwaters for an evening of experimental music. Update - see the 2007 event via this link.

Faster Than Sound has all the excitement of those wonderful 1970s London Roundhouse concerts when Pierre Boulez and William Glock ruled at the BBC, and Classic FM was still two decades away. Could this be new music's Woodstock? Even if it isn't, the 2007 Aldeburgh Festival lays to rest all that nonsense about classical music being dead.

For a photo report on the 2007 Faster Than Sound follow this link, and get into the Woodstock spirit with Benjamin Britten - we shall overcome.
Photos of 2006 Faster Than Sound from FM Buckeymedia. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Garth Trinkl said…
Thank you, as always, pliable, for this highly thought-provoking article.

Your mention of Benjamin Britten's late composing years [d. 1976] and the subsequent closing of the RAF Bentwater Cold War Airbase in 1993, reminded me that most of the earlier generation of U.S. Nuclear-Tipped Nike Missile bases surrounding America’s largest cities were closed in 1974/75 (after about twenty years in operation) - leaving NATO "nuclear deterrence" to the tripod of long range bombers, Polaris nuclear-powered submarines, and non-coastal-based ICBMs [Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles] -- which, of course, remain on standby alert today, though "retargeted" since the "end" of the Cold War against the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. [The maximum intercept altitude of the older Nike Hercules/Ajax Missiles is described variously as between 100,000 and 150,000 feet over the oceans, Canada, and the Arctic.]

Through 1974/75, 19 batteries of Nike Missiles "guarded" New York City, 19 batteries guarded the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and 17 batteries guarded the Los Angeles basin. The buildings and barracks at these sites were bulldozed in about 1974/75, and the areas covered in two feet of gravel. (The sites in Alaska and Florida remained operational for some additional years.)

Here is an aerial photo of one site located in the northern Berkeley Hills (there is much material on all of these older missile sites on the Web):,-122.27863&z=17&t=S

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