The Conquest of the Useless: Caruso (Gold is the sweat of the sun) [second version]

Research output: Performances, compositions and other non-textual formsComposition



Throughout the troubled production of Fitzcarraldo (1982), a film about a rubber baron who strives to build an opera house deep in the Peruvian jungle, the German filmmaker Werner Herzog kept vivid and shocking diaries which he published years later as the book Conquest of the Useless. I have become somewhat obsessed with these surreal diaries recently and have begun work on a series of pieces which draw on different themes contained therein.

This piece, Caruso (Gold is the sweat of the sun), deals with the initial image, or dream which inspired Herzog to make the film in the first place. He writes:

A vision had seized hold of me...of a large steamship scaling a hill under its own steam, working its way up a steep slope in the jungle, while above this natural landscape, which shatters the weak and the strong with equal ferocity, soars the voice of Caruso, silencing all the pain and all the voices of the primeval forest and drowning out all birdsong.

The piece is scored for four samplers, whose music is almost completely made up of tiny extracts from gramophone recordings made by Caruso between 1903 and 1908, and electric guitar. As the piece progresses, the guitar becomes enveloped by the ‘choir’ of Carusos whose influence is by turns obsessive, healing, overpowering and ultimately, silencing.

First version commissioned by Stichting Ensemble Klang with funds provided by the Arts Council of Ireland. This work was premiered at Muziekgebouw Amsterdam, Netherlands on 12th of December 2012 by Ensemble Klang. This new version was premiered at Sonica, Glasgow on 7th of November 2015 by David Fennessy (guitars) and Peter Dowling (laptop).


Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversal Edition
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 7 Nov 2015