Canary Songs is a sound re-enactment and choral performance for cinema spaces, which draws on the sounds and atmosphere of a World War One (WW1) shelling factory. It premiered at Phoenix in April 2016.
Oral accounts described how during WW1 the female munition workers, who packed TNT powder into shells, were called ‘Canary Girls’ as their skin and hair would turn yellow and ginger from exposure to the chemicals in the explosives. As they undertook this hazardous work, the women often sang together. Combined with the size of the space, the mechanical noises of the machinery and number of people working in the space, this created an acoustically intense environment, which Canary Songs re-imagines as a choral performance and industrial backing track, which will be played in surround sound in Screen 2 at Phoenix.
The piece focuses on the Chilwell Shelling Factory, near Beeston in Nottinghamshire, which was the largest munition factory in the UK, providing almost 60% of the UK shells used during the war. Within the factory the “Great Store”, which covered between 7-9 acres (approx 28,328-36,421 sqm) has been acoustically mapped and forms the main backbone of the piece, over which a choir will sing. In 1918 a massive explosion at the factory killed 132 people (some accounts note 140), 25 of whom were women.
Canary Songs has been commissioned to commemorate the ongoing centenary of World War One.
Commissioned by Phoenix
Created/Directed: Teresa Dillon
Costume: Mia Morikawa
Acoustic model: Zora Schärer Kalkandjiev
Choir director: Lyndsey Cockwell
Choir: Linda Faulkner, Jane Haddock, Rhiannon Stanley, Moiraa Paynter, Angela Finch, Sue Dix, Helen Dyer, Sue Bonnington, Jennifer Clegg, Grace Bennett, Denise Richardson, Jill Randall, Rosa Leivas, Susan Smith, Lisa Hall, Janet Flawith, Angie Glass, Lucila Vieira, Anne Freeman, Laura Freeman, Veronica Matthew, Jan Ball, Ana Carrillo