For two centuries, the coal industry formed the backbone of the northeast coast of England and supported entire communities. Fueled by the Industrial Revolution, generation after generation slaved in the mines, manifesting an odd combination of pride in their work and acceptance of its dangers.
Then, in the mid-1980s, the Thatcher administration closed a majority of the mines, opting to depend more on imported coal and oil. The mining communities were devastated and had to figure out a new way forward.
That’s the inspiration behind “From Out a Darker Sea,” a multimedia piece by the cutting-edge percussion ensemble So Percussion. The work has its U.S. premiere Friday at the Williams Center at Lafayette College in Easton. Opening the program is Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood” and Bryce Dessner’s “Music for Wood and Strings.”
Integrating art, narrative, photography, film and an original musical soundscape performed live, “Darker Sea” captures the environment, personal stories and aspirations of the residents of Seaham, in East Durham County, England, a community fighting against industrial decline and determined to forge a new identity.
The story should sound familiar. Northeastern Pennsylvania has undergone, and survived, a similar crisis. In the past century, the mining of its rich anthracite coal fields has all but ended, and the once proud Bethlehem Steel Corp. ended steel-making at its Bethlehem plant in 1995 after a 140-year history. Local towns and cities struggled to survive. Think of it this way: What Billy Joel was saying in his 1982 hit “Allentown,” So Percussion is saying today in “From Out a Darker Sea.”
So draws its name from the second character of a compound Japanese word meaning “to perform music.” But by itself, the character can also mean “to determine a direction and move forward.”
The four-member ensemble last appeared at the Williams Center in 2011, when it joined…