Tarik O'Regan's Mass Observation was commissioned for the University of Michigan Chamber Choir, Jerry Blackstone, conductor, thanks to support from the William K. and Delores S. Brehm Choral Commissioning Fund and the Barbara Abramoff Levy Fund.
Mass Observation is a meditation on the histories of our varied ambivalent relationships with surveillance in its myriad guises. The use of technologies that sate our desires to be watched and heard (safety, tracking, empowerment, and pride) has, in some sense, always been able to be weighed against our anxieties around invasions of privacy (physical and psychological harm, hacking, subjugation, and embarrassment).
The work takes its title from the British social research organisation, Mass-Observation, which aimed to record everyday life in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1937, Mass-Observation controversially paid investigators to anonymously record people's conversation and behaviour at work, on the street and at various public occasions including public meetings, sporting, and religious events.
Scored for chorus and percussion sextet, Mass Observation ebbs and flows between various polarities (human voices and percussion instruments, pitched and unpitched sounds, clear and opaque tonalities) over the course of its thirteen movements. There is a ritualistic nature to the overall pacing of the work, reminiscent of a liturgical mass setting. The two groups of musicians are rarely aligned: for much of the piece they watch and listen to one another in silence.
Duration approximately: 40 Minutes