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Our Sanctuary Project With John Kefala Kerr

Members of Harbour Lights recently contributed vocal recordings to a new sound art piece being created by composer and sound artist John Kefala Kerr. Sanctuary is a bird-inspired audio installation that will form part of Amble Development Trust’s Amble Bird Trail project — a collection of permanent bird-inspired artworks to be launched in 2021 that will showcase the diversity of birdlife found in the local landscape. John’s piece draws connections between the bird and the human by digitally transforming people’s singing voices into ‘birdcalls’ and birdcalls into human-like vocalisations. The result will be an audio work scored for a hybrid ensemble of singers, musical instruments, digital sounds and an unlikely chorus of people and birds. People will be able to listen to Sanctuary via a smartphone app that will guide Bird Trail visitors around the various sculptures and artworks.

John Kefala Kerr is a British-Greek composer, sound artist and writer. A prize-winning graduate of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the University of Sussex, he has had work presented at festivals and venues in the UK, USA, Europe and Japan. His output includes instrumental, vocal, and multimedia works. These are often conceived in close proximity to everyday events, situations and circumstances.

John is a recipient of the Dio Award, the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust Contemporary Music Prize and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Composer’s Prize. In 2003 he received the UK Arts Council Encore Award, and in 2006 his work for orchestra and mixed chorus, Panagia, won the gold medal in the Volos International Composition Competition. Collaboration credits include, Tandem Dance, Northern Stage, Quarantine Theatre Co. Grand Gestures Dance Collective, Merlin Films and the animator Maki Kobayashi.

Past work includes Eight Bells, a work for violin and soundtrack developed in collaboration with marine scientists at the Dove Marine Laboratory. John’s ‘sound opera’, A Sign in Space, was commissioned by Durham Cathedral and received a Journal Culture Award in 2012. His first novel Thimio’s House was published by Perfect Edge Books in 2013, and his site-specific sound installation Book of Bells, created for the Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition, toured UK festivals, including Sonorities (Belfast) and BEAST (Birmingham). During his tenure as composer-in-residence at the UK National Railway Museum, John developed Steamsong, a multimedia opera which was premiered at the 2014 Durham International Festival.

In 2017 John completed a work for voices and soundtrack (Blood Choir) in which performers test their own blood glucose levels in order to determine the sung notes. The following year he was appointed composer-in-residence at Newcastle’s historic Grainger Market where he developed a mini-opera (Arcadia) in one of the vacant shop units. He recently completed a sound installation for the National Centre for the Written Word and composed the score for the 2020 Straight8 Film Festival winner Fly Home. John is currently working on a new score for Skipton Camerata’s Lockdown Diaries project.


John was one of the artist/participants at Drywater Arts Open Day last autumn, with his 'Blow The Wind Southerly' ensemble piece for six choirs. Whilst there, he heard our choir performing two sets of songs - a big sound in a small space!



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