Philip Miller’s newest work
Extracts From The Underground is an original South African work of musical theatre, envisaged both as a live performance and installation. Extracts personalises the human experience within the anonymity of the industrial mining sector. The brainchild of award-winning musical composer Philip Miller, this is a work unique in both subject and execution. Both historical and acutely contemporary, Extracts will resonate with audiences in South Africa and abroad.
Over the course of the live performance, the audience embarks on a journey of descent: traveling from ground level into the deepest reaches of the earth’s rock-face, and so into the hidden strata of South African history. At different points in the vertical journey, the lift comes to a halt allowing a group of miners to tell their stories of life and labour underground: the risks, accidents and challenges of heat exhaustion, dust inhalation and hearing loss.
This work is relevant both locally and globally. Using the recent tragic events at Marikana as a flashpoint, the work offers a unique insight into a South African miner’s experience. Globally, the mining industry has come to epitomise the disparities of power between management and labour.
The opera is a meditation on the sound-world and improvised spoken languages heard within the depths of a South African mine.
Miller’s libretto features three rare archival sources:
1 A 1967 Miners’ Fanakalo Dictionary, issued by the Transvaal Chamber of Mines. Fanakalo is a pidgin language originating in the South African mines.
2 A Register of Mining Accidents from the mining company, Simmer and Jack Mines, housed in the Cullinan Library at the University of Witwatersrand. The Register dates from the 1930’s.
3 Reportage – both historical newsreel footage from the 1970’s and contemporary broadcasts of mining unrest at Marikana, Lonmin Platinum Mines.
Miller blends multiple choral traditions – from the a cappella singing of the miners’ choirs (Isicathamiya) to the current protest songs of the labour movement. The singers create the rhythms and sounds of the miners’ tools: the shovels, drills, pick axes, explosives, and heavy machinery that turn underground life into an intense cacophony.
Another point of innovation is that the singers play a specially devised ‘sound-sculpture’. This is made up of a series of mining picks individually tuned to distinct musical notes. This sound-sculpture serves as both a musical instrument and a theatrical element of the staging and design.
Listen to the work here and watch the promotional video here.