Under A Gibbous Moon

Track by Track :
07 Under a Gibbous Moon
from ‘Wonders of The Cosmos’

Recorded at Abbey Road and on location at Ely Cathedral
Featuring Edmund Aldhouse (Organ) & Grace Davidson (Soprano)
Published by Audio Network

In this Composing The Cosmos series I’ll be taking listeners through each track of this epic new album. You can read all about the making of Wonders of the Cosmos in my interview with audio network.


Continually falling towards the Earth, yet never reaching it, our nearest celestial body waits in continuous suspension over us. A familiar friend, it is the originator and perpetuator of fireside myths, legends and superstitions, and its mystique has never been diminished, even after having been conquered by spacesuits and flags. Or perhaps in a world of electric light, we have no need for its nocturnal lunar glow. Except for an occasional reminder of its presence, when enlarged, or blood red, or eclipsed, it waxes and wanes in relative obscurity. However, I believe the Moon should always be lauded. Therefore, for our final destination on this tour through the ‘Wonders of the Cosmos’ I’ve composed a heartfelt song of praise dedicated to our own, very special Moon.

Thank you Moon for all that you do

The inspiration behind this musical lunar homage is a fine photo taken by fellow Audio Network composer (and talented photographer) Rob Kelly (please do check out his amazing ‘The Caves Sessions’, a trilogy of albums recorded on location in Chislehurst Caves, and also featuring the vocal talents of Grace Davidson). ‘Gibbous’ refers to the shape of the Moon when it is less circular than a Full Moon but more than a Third Quarter (or semi-circular) Moon. It can be Gibbous in both the waxing (getting bigger) and waning (getting smaller) phases. Either way, this enchanting image speaks to me of orbits, planets, Newtonian laws, gravity, but most of all, Earth and its ecology. There are many things that the Moon has done and continues to do for us. Let’s consider three of them. Firstly, the moon has extended special night time benefits to us and our fellow creatures for millennia. The evolution and ecology of nocturnal life would have been hindered without the effects of its lunar glow. Furthermore, with the onset of the agricultural revolution, around 10,000 BC, humans learned how to be guided by the moon’s waxing and waning cycles, using them to determine when best to plant and harvest crops. Secondly, although the moon is not solely responsible for the Earth’s tides, it does generate two-thirds of all global tidal energy. Given that tidal motion is one of the engines that drives and regulates the health and ecology of our vast ocean habitats, the Moon’s contribution appears crucial. Thirdly, the various forces that affect the Earth’s rotation and solar orbit, and their consequences, are complex. We do know that tiny changes in our planet’s axis of tilt over periods of tens of thousands of years have precipitated devastating ice ages and greenhouse Earths. We also know that the moon exerts just enough gravitational pull on the Earth to stabilise its rotation, therefore reducing the amount it wobbles on its axis. Without the Moon’s steadying hand our planet would have suffered many more cataclysmic climate change events.

By the light of the silvery Moon

We started our journey through the Cosmos with a piece that underscores a mysterious story of light from the dawn of the time, light that’s so very distant, it’s almost impossible to fully comprehend its relationship to us. We end our journey with a feature of space that couldn’t be nearer, and whose influence couldn’t be more keenly felt. The Moon reminds us of how much we have to be thankful for in the degree to which the Universe seems finely tuned to nurture and sustain life. Hence the style of this piece is decidedly different from the preceding ones, and it takes on the form of a gentle, reflective, almost romantic coda to the more dramatic and other-worldly musical scenes that have gone before. In the exploratory stage of the writing process, I tried first of all to capture the Moon’s silvery white radiance, and the transformative quality of its lunar glow. In pursuit of this goal I spent some time recording a selection of improvisatory cello harmonics. Not convinced by the results, I went on to experiment with slowing down and pitch shifting the audio files. This clinched it. The sonic texture I had stumbled upon was a perfect musical metaphor for the Moon’s reflected light: transformational and rather wonderful.

Not only was this pitch shifted audio an important sound design element, but also a source of tempo, pitch, rhythm and harmony. In the way that humans have extracted stories and meaning from the shapes, shadows and contours of the lunar surface, I extracted as much musical material as I could from these glistening harmonics.

Lunar mountains

Delicate, staccato soprano phrases, executed perfectly by Grace Davidson, sing of various lunar mountains (‘Mons Ampère’, ‘Mons Agnes’and ‘Mons André’). The pitches of the notes have been dictated by the pitch shifted cello harmonics. I’ve opted for pizzicato strings and bell-like organ notes to compliment these opening vocal phrases, and to allow the sound design enough space in the texture through which it can shimmer. As the piece develops I employ a favourite technique of mine, which is to gradually reduce (usually by half each time) individual note lengths. This has the effect of increasing momentum, whilst allowing the tempo to remain the same. I’ve used the technique here as a gentle nod to the fact that, as the Moon progresses through its lunar cycle, and the earth moves through its orbit, the perceived speed of the Moon’s transit across the sky changes, but in reality its absolute speed is almost completely constant.

Cathedral in the sky

Finally, you can hear a faint trace of the Choral music tradition at certain moments. For this last piece of the album, I wanted to acknowledge the musical heritage of Ely Cathedral, our recording location for the organ and soprano sessions. I’ve written a number of times about how recording in the vast acoustic of this ancient building has imprinted on the music a sonic quality that can really help us grasp the sheer expanse of space. There is no way to achieve such a visceral effect through artificial means, or should I say, plug-ins. Just as Cathedrals have long been built to bring us closer to celestial ideas, so too I hope that the music I have composed for this album can lead us to an appreciation of the celestial wonders that adorn the Cosmos.