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Musician breaks new ground with glass composition

Posted on 1 December 2005

For musician Neil Sorrell, it was one of his most unusual assignments - to create 15 minutes of music, using only the sounds of glass.

Dr Sorrell, a senior lecturer in the University of York's Department of Music, was asked to create the music for a radio play his brother, Martin, had written about an unusual medical condition that caused sufferers to believe they were turning to glass.

The 'glass delusion' - a state of profound anxiety now associated with severe depression - was relatively common in the Middle Ages. King Charles VI of France was a sufferer and had iron ribs sewn into his clothing to protect himself in case of a fall while in 1610, Cervantes wrote a novella The Glass Graduate about the condition.

I decided that using the sounds that could be created by glass would give the music an other-worldy quality

Dr Neil Sorrell

But Martin Sorrell, who is Professor of French at Exeter University, has set his play The Glass Man, chronicling a young man's affliction with the condition, in the present day. He approached his brother to write the music and Neil Sorrell took up the challenge, though with a limited budget and a tight deadline, he decided on a novel approach.

Dr Sorrell said: "I didn't want to use normal instruments. I decided that using the sounds that could be created by glass would give the music an other-worldy quality. If it had been done on normal instruments, it would have sounded banal and naive."

After sketching out his musical ideas, Dr Sorrell set about gathering his 'instruments' including wine glasses, large vessels from the University's Department of Chemistry and even the inside of a vacuum flask. He enlisted the help of second-year postgraduate student in the Department of Music, Chilean Felipe Otondo, to act as recording engineer.

"I started producing sounds using the glass and recorded them with Felipe which gave me a scale of notes to work with. It was very satisfying and very creative but a bit of white-knuckle ride towards the end when the deadline was fast approaching!"

It took 24 hours of studio time to produce 15 minutes of music. The Glass Man directed by Sara Davies, and starring Cark Prekopp, Saskia Reeves, Barbara Flynn and Stephen Perring, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2.15pm on 6 December 2005.

Notes to editors:

  • The Glass Man will be interspersed with interviews involving glass makers and a contribution from Andrew Solomon, whose book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, includes an account of the delusion and has won him 11 awards, including the 2001 National Book Award as well as a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize.
  • For photographs of Dr Neil Sorrell, contact David Garner on 01904 43215
  • The University of York is one of the liveliest centres of musical education and research in Britain. During the academic year, the Department of Music is home to more than 270 music students and a large staff of professional musicians and scholars, all engaged in the study, creation and performance of all kinds and types of music. The range of music supported includes early music and contemporary music; acoustic and digital music; world music and jazz; music for the concert hall and music for the community. More Information at

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153