On April 22, the Netherlands Radio Choir will give the European Premiere of Mass Observation by Tarik O’Regan. The 45-minute work for chorus and percussion sextet was written in 2016 for the University of Michigan Chamber Choir and is a meditation on the theme of surveillance in its many guises. The performance by Netherlands Radio Choir will take place at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht under the direction of the choir’s Chief Conductor Benjamin Goodson.
Mass Observation takes its title from the British social research organisation founded in 1937 to anonymously record everyday life in the United Kingdom, from conversations on the street to public meetings and sporting events. Consisting of 13 short movements, O’Regan’s piece combines fragments of poetry and prose by a variety of literary figures from the 19th and 20th centuries, among them Emily Dickinson, Jeremy Bentham, Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence. These are juxtaposed with secret code numbers purportedly broadcast be a Polish intelligence agency and, most strikingly, the first-hand account of an American drone operative published in GQ Magazine in 2013. ‘There is a ritualistic nature to the overall pacing of the work, reminiscent of a liturgical mass setting’, writes the composer. ‘The two groups of musicians are rarely aligned: for much of the piece they watch and listen to one another in silence.’