In 2012, SATSYMPH were in receipt of a major Arts Council Grants for the Arts (GftA) Award (with the PRS for Music Foundation and PVA MediaLab/labculture ltd.) to realise our next major work. ‘On a Theme of Hermes‘. ‘Hermes’ fuses the music of contemporary composer Marc Yeats, the words of poet Ralph Hoyte, and the expertise of coder, musician and composer Phill Phelps, using live, top-flight musicians (from the Bristol Ensemble) and voice-artists.

Phill Phelps with Roger Heaton recording music for ‘On a Theme of Hermes’

‘On a Theme of Hermes’ was launched in Bristol (in partnership with MShed, the new museum of Bristol, The Arnolfini, Bristol Ensemble and Electrostatic Festival), Hamworthy Park in Poole (in partnership with Poole Borough Council and The Lighthouse); and in Wroclaw, Poland (in partnership with Wroclaw European City of Culture 2016). A ‘portable’ iteration’ is accessible anywhere in the world. Development of the portable iteration has been supported by PVA MediaLab and Labculture Ltd.


‘On a Theme of Hermes’ is an original full-scale contemporary work for large-scale ensemble and voices which fuses contemporary music and contemporary poetry in an entirely new and innovative way, and, moreover, one which has a truly unique method of delivery. ‘On a Theme of Hermes’ is user-directed and geo-located. It responds to location, to where the user is. It morphs, changes, according to what the user does. This is an entirely new music/poetry paradigm.
We have chosen the theme of the Greek god ‘Hermes’ as he is, traditionally, messenger of the gods, guide to the Underworld, patron of thieves, liars, of literature and poets, as well as of boundaries (and those who, as in this project, “travel across them”). These attributes of his quicksilver nature give us massive scope for weaving symphonic stories around him and for integrating classical and contemporary allusions and illusions, words and music.


‘On a Theme of Hermes’ is originally composed in three distinct stages. The music, played by members of the Bristol Ensemble,as well as the voice parts were professionally recorded. The results are currently being modularised and ‘composed into a virtual layer’ over a chosen location using the Calvium ‘AppFurnace’ suite. It can then be accessed in the specified locations by anyone, whether they are technically adept or not, downloading a free app onto a smartphone*. Then they go to the actual exterior space where the work is geo-located, put headphones on, and ‘walk the symphony’. The easiest way to think about this is that ‘the landscape is the score: the audience member literally walks around in the score’, or it can be thought of as ‘a virtual auditorium’ or ‘an intelligent environment seeded with artistic content’. An earlier example may be sampled at: (*the current model runs on the iPhone; it will run on Android devices in 2012)

Writing for ‘pervasive media’ is a continually challenging process. This is a non-linear or even anti-linear environment. Sure, one can have ‘pockets’ of linearity where things proceed from A to C via B … but how do different ‘pockets’ combine with each other? I see before me a veritable sea of words and music, rising and swelling with the creative tide, inhabited by mellifluous, counterpointed or even downright clashing sea-creatures. You as a participant negotiate this warm Caribbean Sea or cold Atlantic in any way YOU choose, so what words you pick up, what music, what word-music, what music-word colourations, combinations, moods depend entirely on how you move within this intelligent, perceptive environment. Or like pushing through treacle in search of words to imbibe. The words and music approach you, recede away from you, you desperately want to find out where that particular string has gone, you pop down a rabbit hole, searching, searching … and emerge in another soundworld, another Universe.

EXTRACT FROM ‘SATSYMPH-HERMES’ (‘On a Theme of Hermes’).

On a Theme of Hermes is gratefully supported by the following partners: Arts Council England Lottery Funded, the Performing Right Society for Music Foundation, PVA MediaLab and Labculture Ltd., Lighthouse Poole, Arnolfini Bristol, The arts Unit, Poole Borough Council, Bristol Ensemble, MShed Bristol.

For a full list of SATSYMPH partners, past and present, visit the supporting partner links section