The Swan’s New Single

The Swan’s Artistic Director David Le Page tells us about his inspiration for his special arrangement of Brian Eno’s An Ending (Ascent) arranged for Harp, Violin & Orchestra.

An Ending (Ascent) appeared on Brian Eno’s 9th studio album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks but was originally recorded in 1983 for the feature-length documentary For All Mankind. Eno’s recording features ethereal synths which have a naive human quality; a benign synergy of human and machine. Its beauty is, in part, due to the detached quality of the voices which give the impression of existing in a place between this world and another.

havingto isolate.The students he’d been teaching cello to took part anyway though and everyone had a brilliant, fun time playing the instruments the Birmingham Music Hub had lent the students for this project.

David Le Page plays Sleep Walk for Vivaldi Sleep
The Swan's Artistic Director, David Le Page,. Image by Natasha Bidgood.

Emotionally Intense Solo Violin

In my arrangement I wanted to capture the essence of Eno’s version – that sense of wonder, as if the eyes are always lifted towards the sky. I used strings, underpinned by a bell-like harp and a slowly rising and emotionally intense solo violin line; the violin and the harp create perspective and depth. The simple structure consists of a repeated sequence, shortened by a few bars every other time and melody and harmony lines that overlap in an almost improvised manner. I wanted my version to have a palpable sense of direction and a moment towards which everything coalesced – a high point. It builds imperceptibly to an overwhelming apex then quite rapidly dissolves. 


My aim was to access Eno’s studio work through the contrasting prism of live orchestral textures. That relationship between the listener and a recorded work – particularly one which is heard often – becomes very personal. An arrangement – or reimagining – is a way of bringing that relationship to life. The oral tradition also comes into play in regard to transcribing for different instruments and it is thrilling to discover the unexpected creative possibilities that can occur through mishearing and misunderstanding. 

Avoiding The Temptation to Slip Into Sentimentality

I avoided the temptation to slip over into sentimentality – there’s a distinct line between that and being genuinely emotional but it’s sometimes hard to see. Eno’s version is utterly unsentimental but it provokes such a strong emotional response. I’m fascinated that the detachment of the original can illicit such deep feeling.
On a technical level, trying to work out exactly the right note lengths for the harp was one of the trickiest aspects of my arrangement. Performance-wise it’s quite difficult for the harpist and the conductor because of the slow triplets against the conductor’s simple crotchet beat. In my interpretation the time signature moves imperceptibly back and forth between four and five to recreate Eno’s beautiful sense of hesitancy – a feeling of not quite knowing where you are but still surrendering. Listening to it is akin to being in the vacuum of space – North, South, East and West cease to exist.

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